Questions Raised Over State Bar Handling of Disbarred Attorney

A Costa Mesa woman alleged her attorney took thousands of dollars from her after having his license to practice suspended and never disclosed it.

Shayne Rucknagel wonders why for month's no one in law enforcement was investigating the now disbarred attorney David Hiersekorn.

"Here he is taking large amounts of money from people and he's at home right now," Rucknagel said.

The State Bar of California suspended Hiersekorn's law license in July 2016 for failing to pay license fees and allegedly misappropriating more than $210,000 from a client's trust and recommended that he be disbarred.

At the time, he represented Rucknagel, too. She says he never disclosed he'd lost his law license.

"It shows what kind of character he is," she said.

In an email to the NBC4 I-Team, Hiersekorn denies the accusation, writing, "I informed Ms. Rucknagel of my status in July of 2016."

He also sent us a substitution of attorney form with Rucknagel's signature that she doesn't recall signing.

We checked for the form at the Orange County courthouse. It was never filed. Hiersekorn now confirms he never filed it.

In fact, nothing was filed in 2016 on Rucknagel's case, despite her paying Hiersekorn nearly $3,000 in October that year, months after he was ruled ineligible to practice law. Hiersekorn says he was owed that money for previous work on the case.

When Rucknagel contacted the I-Team, we suggested she file a complaint with the State Bar of California, whose mission is to protect the public. She did this past February. In March, she received a letter from the bar that says the bar recommended Hiersekorn's disbarment and that the bar was suspending investigation of Rucknagel's complaint pending final outcome of their recommendation.

The bar recommended she file a claim with their client security fund to reimburse her for the money she'd paid Hiersekorn.

On July 6, 2017, Rucknagel got a second letter stating the California Supreme Court had ordered Hiersekorn disbarred, and that "the State Bar has authority to take disciplinary action only against attorney's therefore this case against respondent is closed."

The State Bar represents right now a complete failure in how a government should serve the people of the state.

Mike Gatto, a lawyer and former state lawmaker, says complaints about the bar were rampant during his years in the legislature.

"Complaints just languishing for months and years of a lawyer doing really bad things without any consequences," he said.

Gatto isn't playing politics. The state auditor's office in 2016 issued a scathing report on the bar. The most serious allegation was the organization was failing at protecting the public.

Rucknagel isn't the only person at a loss for words. The bar denied our interview request about her complaint. We asked whether or not the bar would generally refer this type of matter to law enforcement for inquiry or what the standard is for the bar to do so.

Gatto says considering the amount of money allegedly misappropriated in Hiersekorn's disbarment, the case should have been referred to the district attorney's office.

On July 26, 2017, the state Supreme Court order disbarring Hiersekorn went into effect.

After numerous questions from the I-Team less than a month later, the State Bar sent Rucknagel another letter, this time an investigator wrote, "I have notified the Orange County District Attorney's Office of the alleged misconduct."

A spokesperson for the district attorney's office sent us a photo of an envelope confirming receipt of the bar's referral on Aug. 21 and that an investigation of, "Hiersekorn's conduct (both before and after his disbarment) is still ongoing."

The district attorney's office says it had not received a referral prior to that date.

"It's shocking," Gatto said.

That's because Hiersekorn is now long gone. He's left California. He never contested his disbarment, although he tells us he did not steal his client's money but lost it through a poor investment.

The court ordered he pay restitution, but he has not paid a dime. Hiersekorn says he's broke and expects his former client to be reimbursed through the bar's client security fund.

Hiersekorn is also supposed to notify the court in writing between 30 to 40 days of the order, that he's alerted his clients and affected parties of his disbarment. He hasn't done that either, but tells the I-Team he has complied with the obligations and intends to notify the court now that he's established a permanent address.

The bar's rules note failure to do so can be punishable by being held in contempt of court or charged with a crime. Rucknagel still wonders why neither has happened.

"Because they are protecting their own maybe? I have no idea," she said.

Rucknagel is also waiting to get her money back from the client security fund set up by the bar. It has told her there is no timetable for getting her claim resolved. It could possibly take years.

Hiersekorn, according to his social media postings, now lives in Idaho.

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