Woman Says Her Attorney Lost Law License, But Kept Her Checks

A Costa Mesa mother of three is calling out the attorney she hired to help her navigate the most trying time of her life.

In 2014, Shayne Rucknagel hired David Hiersekorn to handle some business and probate matters related to her husband's death. He committed suicide while the couple was divorcing.

"He had total control of all our finances, so he paid all the bills," Rucknagel said. "I had no access to any of the accounts."

She says the grief was tremendous. The panic of caring for three children alone was blinding, and financially she was broke.

Hiersekorn reassured her.

"He was like, 'No, Shayne. I'm going to help you through this,'" Rucknagel recalled. She says she was told the legal work would take about a year, but it dragged on.

Rucknagel says Hiersekorn blamed court delays, but she had regained control of some finances.

On July 27, 2016, Rucknagel emailed Hiersekorn after unsuccessfully trying to reach him for weeks, she says. She asked him specifics about a few outstanding matters and paying Hiersekorn's remaining final fee, writing, "I want to be done with this process. It's coming up on two years since Eric's death."

Hiersekorn responded a few days later on Aug. 1st that he was having email problems and needed to meet with her.

In the time between those two emails, according to the State Bar of California, Hiersekorn became ineligible to practice law on July 29, 2016.

Rucknagel says she met with Hiersekorn on Aug. 5. She says he requested $2,935 to close her case and file the final paperwork. She saysHhiersekorn said nothing about losing his law license.

On Aug. 10, Hiersekorn writes, "I can file the petition with the court as soon as I receive the payment."

On Oct. 25, Rucknagel cut the check. Hiersekorn cashed it. Rucknagel says it was back to silence.

"He never contacted me," she said. "I tried calling, emails."

In Feburary 2017, she looked Hiersekorn up online. The first thing that came up was the state bar's warning.

The bar suspended Hiersekorn's law license for failing to pay his dues and failing to respond to disciplinary charges accusing him of misappropriating $210,208.61 from the trust of a former client.

The NBC4 I-Team reached Hiersekorn through his email and by phone. He doesn't deny continuing to do work for Rucknagel after his license was suspended.

"I knew that a suspension was imminent but I had no notice of when it would take effect," he wrote to NBC4.

Hiersekorn says had he been paid immediately he could have completed court filings before his suspension became official. He insists he informed Rucknagel he'd lost his license to practice in July 2016.

Hiersekorn emailed the I-Team an attorney substitution form with Rucknagel's signature. He admitted to never filing it. We have asked Hiersekorn what the $2,935 paid to him after losing his law license paid for. He says it was the end of case balance, money owed to him for court filings he made while still licensed to practice and related to court costs he'd paid on her behalf.

"It was like he was stealing money from my children, that's all they have left," Rucknagel said. "They lost their father, they only have me."

We suggested Rucknagel report what happened to the state bar because as late as February 2017, Hiersekorn was still emailing her apologizing for letting matters related to her husband's IRA account "fall through the cracks." He tells us that was outside of any scope of work in their agreement.

We'll show you what the California State Bar did in Part 2 of our report airing in the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22.

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