LOS ANGELES — The State Bar Court of California recently disbarred Joseph Lynn DeClue, a Santa Ana attorney, after an investigation into his misconduct into home mortgage modification matters found that he had “habitually” disregarded his clients’ interests.
According to the March 31 decision, DeClue was a practicing criminal defense attorney in Orange County until 2012 when he began taking on foreclosure defense cases. Despite not having experience in that area of law, DeClue reportedly began this venture due to the issues his friends and family had faced with mortgage lenders.
In August 2012, DeClue opened Millenia Law Group (MLG) and hired One World Alliance Inc. (OWA) to run the operation. The two owners of OWA had extensive knowledge of mortgages and foreclosures, though neither of them held law licenses. DeClue was allegedly aware that OWA had been involved with other attorneys in the past for loan modification practices, and that one specific attorney had been charged with misconduct.
MLG worked with an estimated 500 clients during its operation, though none of the employees of MLG were licensed attorneys. In December 2013, DeClue discovered that one of the OWA partners had forged his signature on a filing he had no prior knowledge of. DeClue held a meeting with the OWA partners later that month to address the issue, and it was determined that the contract would terminate in spring 2014 and no further clients would be accepted.
OWA failed to dissolve the relationship, and DeClue stole MLG’s client files. Upon review of the files, the attorney discovered that MLG had been working on matters that he had not approved of, which resulted in misconduct charges.
The first matter stemmed from July 2013, when a woman entered into an agreement with MLG, under the impression that the non-attorney employee she had been communicating with was licensed. She paid a $25,000 retainer and was informed to stop making mortgage payments on her 10 properties, though she was not behind on her payments at the time. In April 2014, the client was informed that prelitigation had been completed, but she would need to pay an additional retainer of $5,000 for each property to continue. She requested a refund of the $25,000 from DeClue, who didn't know that she was a client prior to the refund request. He offered to help her file for bankruptcy and use the $25,000 as a retainer for the service. As of the disbarment order, the woman had not received the refund.
DeClue was investigated for four other matters in which he had failed his clients. The California State Bar found that the volume of misconduct charges and moral turpitude involved in these cases warranted disbarment.
DeClue, a graduate of the Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, was admitted to the California State Bar in 1993. The attorney has a prior disciplinary record, including probation in 2014 and a suspension in 2016.