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In re Naderi

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 24, 2019

In the Matter of Farzad Naderi, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2019-000061

          Submitted March 27, 2019

          John S. Nichols, Disciplinary Counsel, and Sabrina C. Todd, Senior Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, of Columbia, for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

          Farzad Naderi, of California, pro se.

          PER CURIAM.

         Respondent, a licensed California attorney, provided legal services in South Carolina to a South Carolina resident without having been admitted or authorized to practice law in this state, in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Following an evidentiary hearing at which respondent did not appear, the Hearing Panel of the Commission on Lawyer Conduct (the Panel) recommended debarring respondent and ordering respondent pay the cost of the proceedings and restitution to his South Carolina client. As neither party sought review of the Panel's report, the matter is now submitted for the Court's consideration. We impose the sanctions recommended by the Panel.

         FACTS

         Despite never having been admitted to practice law in South Carolina or applying for pro hac vice admission, respondent provided legal services in the state operating as the Pacific National Law Center (PNLC).

         The J.H. Matter

         In December 2013, J.H., a South Carolina resident, homeowner, and veteran, hired respondent to assist him in negotiating a modification of his home loan. Individuals at PNLC assured J.H. the firm could get his loan modified and decrease his mortgage payments by securing both a balance reduction and a lower, fixed interest rate. PNLC employees also promised J.H. the firm would work diligently and return his calls within 48 hours.

         J.H. signed several forms provided to him by PNLC staff, including an "Attorney Client Retainer Agreement" and a "Third Party Authorization and Release Form." The release form permitted J.H.'s lender to discuss his home loan with PNLC. Respondent was specifically named as the individual permitted to discuss the loan on behalf of J.H. The form listed respondent's title as "Paralegal."

         The retainer agreement provided that, in exchange for a fee of $2, 995, PNLC would provide "legal services," including "representation . . . for negotiation and resolution of disputes with current lender(s) regarding the subject real property and mortgage loan(s)." Pursuant to the retainer agreement, litigation and litigation services were excluded from the scope of the representation.

         The retainer agreement also provided that the fees paid by J.H. were not conditioned on the outcome of his case, and restricted J.H.'s ability to cancel the agreement and seek a refund outside of the first five days after he signed the agreement. After the five-day refund window, the agreement required disputes over fees to be arbitrated pursuant to the guidelines and standards adopted by the State Bar of California. Other disputes would be resolved though binding arbitration in accordance with the arbitration rules of the bar association of Orange County, California. Finally, the retainer agreement also indicated PNLC had no obligation to retain J.H.'s file for any period of time following the end of representation.

         In January, February, and March of 2014, J.H. made payments pursuant to the retainer agreement totaling $2, 995, via counter deposits into PNLC's bank account. J.H. provided PNLC with all information and documentation they requested, and PNLC told J.H. not to worry, the law firm would secure the loan modification, and his lender would not take his home. However, shortly after making his last payment, J.H. began experiencing difficulties reaching anyone at PNLC. PNLC never obtained a loan modification or offered J.H. any other solutions.

         When J.H. received notice of the foreclosure hearing, he was again unable to reach anyone at PNLC. J.H. appeared by himself at the foreclosure hearing, and eventually had to hire another attorney and file for bankruptcy in order to save his home. At the evidentiary hearing before the Panel, J.H. testified that keeping up with his home loan payments had been a struggle, but his home had not been foreclosed. J.H. further testified he was unaware of ...


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