Family law attorney Rossana Mitchell of Chino Hills has been suspended from practicing law for six months by the Supreme Court of California because of four counts of misconduct involving three clients, according to an official from the State Bar of California.
Ms. Mitchell was a board member for the Chino Valley Unified School District from 1997 to 2001 and served on the Chino Hills City Council from March to November 2004.
The order was issued on Dec. 15.
Ms. Mitchell was also ordered to pay $23,871 to the State Bar in court costs, $2,500 to the State Bar in sanctions, $8,000 in restitution to the former spouse of a client plus 10 percent interest going back to March 2017, and was placed on probation for two years, according to the official.
Ms. Mitchell sent a cashier’s check in the amount of $11,485 (including the interest) to the former spouse in July 2021. A copy of the check is included in the court record.
She was also ordered to meet several conditions of probation including completing the State Bar Ethics School and passing an exam, meeting with her assigned probation case specialist to discuss the terms of her discipline and submit quarterly reports answering all inquiries contained in the report from the Office of Probation.
Her law office is in the Gateway Village retail center in Chino Hills.
The State Bar, which licenses and regulates attorneys, recommended the discipline to the California Supreme Court in August 2021 after the Office of Chief Trial Counsel filed a notice of disciplinary charges in November 2020 and investigated eight counts.
Four counts were dismissed.
Mrs. Mitchell did not respond to the Champion’s requests for comment for this story.
According to the State Bar Court decision filed in June 2021, the “most egregious” of the four counts occurred when Ms. Mitchell collected $8,000 from the ex-spouse of a client for a false lien when she knew she did not have a lien or judgment against his property.
After Ms. Mitchell sent a payoff demand to the title company in 2017 of $10,000 plus 10 percent interest per year going back to 2012, the former spouse of her client went to her office “upset” and feeling “pressured to resolve the issue so he could sell his property.”
He paid Ms. Mitchell $8,000 in cash to settle the matter. “The court finds that Mitchell intentionally engaged in an act of moral turpitude and dishonesty by claiming she had a lien against the property and using it as leverage to receive alleged outstanding legal fees supposedly owed by his spouse,” according to the document.
The court also found that Ms. Mitchell failed to give an accounting to her client regarding the $8,000 she received from the former spouse, violating the code that an attorney must maintain records of client funds.
The other counts in different cases, which the court described as “troubling,” included repeatedly reaching out to a party that she knew was represented by an attorney and placing a “charging lien” on a client’s recovery, an action considered “adverse to the client.”
Four witnesses testified on Ms. Mitchell’s behalf and submitted supporting character letters, including Chino Hills resident Jim Gallagher, who is involved in civic leadership and ran on a slate with Ms. Mitchell for city council in 2016.
Mr. Gallagher stated that he was informed of the State Bar allegations and believes Ms. Mitchell possesses good moral character and expresses remorse when a mistake is made.
He stated that if her actions are found to be unprincipled, they were aberrational and isolated.
There was no testimony or character evidence from individuals in the legal community, according to the court document.
Character witnesses described Ms. Mitchell as greatly involved in and well-known in the community, having served on the city council and the school board and having been involved in animal advocacy efforts in the Chino Valley community.
On Dec. 29, 2021, Ms. Mitchell filed a petition to the State Bar Court seeking an extension of 24 months to pay the court fees and the monetary sanction, citing financial hardship.
Ms. Mitchell stated she owes a balance of $32,108 in legal fees after retainning the Cha Law Ethics firm in the amount of $50,000.
The law firm, based in Orange, specializes in State Bar discipline defense and reinstatements.
Ms. Mitchell submitted a financial declaration at the request of the State Bar listing liabilities, including student loans totaling $432,000.
The State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel has 20 days or more to respond to her request.