LOS ANGELES — The State Bar Court of California recently disbarred Steven Gregory Kaplan, a Calabasas attorney, for allegedly misappropriating a portion of nearly $100,000 in client funds.
The order was handed down March 1, and it stems from a 2011 client matter in which Kaplan was hired by three men to represent them in the sale of their film script to a producer. He was identified in writing as the lawyer handling the deal via an email between one of the screenwriters and the producer sent in January 2012. By June 2012, the screenwriters agreed to accept $90,000 for the script which would be divided between the three in percentages of 42.5, 42.5, and 15. Kaplan was also to be paid for his legal services.
Two payments by the producer were written to Kaplan, including a $65,000 deposit made Aug. 1, 2012, and a deposit of $25,000 on Sept. 6, 2012. The funds were not deposited into the attorney’s client trust account, but rather a Wells Fargo checking account for Rainstorm Entertainment Inc., a production company Kaplan owned.
As part of the agreement, Kaplan was entitled to $7,706.20 for his services. From the first installment, Kaplan took $5,565.58 and distributed the rest as agreed. However, upon receipt of the second installment, Kaplan withheld his amount but only distributed two of the three portions to the screenwriters, illegally retaining $9,828.25 of the funds. An inquiry by the unpaid screenwriter was made Sept. 6, 2012, to which Kaplan knowingly and falsely said the funds were not available for dispersal until Oct. 12, 2012.
After Kaplan received the $25,000 payment, he made more than 100 withdrawals for “restaurant bills, airline tickets, credit card payments, parking fees and a $15,000 payment to Exclusive Resorts” as well as $6,000 in cash, according to court documents. The screenwriter and his manager made several inquiries over the next year about when he would receive his payment. Kaplan didn't acquiesce until the screenwriter’s sister, an attorney, demanded payment. At the time, the Office of Chief Trial Counsel had already served Kaplan with a Notice of Disciplinary Charges.
Kaplan argued that he should receive a two-year suspension rather than disbarment as he was under immense stress at the time of the misconduct. The California State Bar determined his actions displayed gross moral turpitude and therefore warranted disbarment.
The Los Angeles County attorney is a graduate of Loyola Law School and was admitted to the California State Bar in 1988. He had no prior record of discipline.