SAN FRANCISCO – In November 2013, a State Bar judge argued that two Bay Area attorneys
should be disbarred for cheating homeowners by promising to save their homes
and then providing incompetent representation, or none at all, and turning
their cases over to a non-lawyer. In March, the state Supreme Court
Several clients lost their homes because of attorneys Stevan Henrioulle
and Ronald Uy's continuous disregard of their clients' interests, the California Bar Journal reports. Judge Patrice
McElroy suspended both men from the practice of law immediately and ordered
repayment of $46,600 in fees that one or both of them had collected from six
The original case explained that both attorneys merged their practices
in 2009 after being brought together by Tarik Soudani, a former lawyer who
had resigned his bar membership while facing disciplinary charges in 2008, then
served as their office manager.
Over the next two years, McElroy argued that the prospective
clients who asked for help with their home loans were assured by Soudani, who
was not allowed to practice law, that the firm would sue the banks and save
their properties. They were required to pay $600 for a useless "forensic
analysis," plus an initial fee of $4,000 or more and a monthly charge of
$500 to $850 for services that were never performed.
For example, Henrioulle and Soudani told a woman who had already sued
her mortgage lender that they could save her home, but she lost it to
foreclosure a year later and learned that the firm had taken no action
whatsoever. When she sought a refund of $13,000 in fees, Henrioulle asked her
for an additional $7,742.50.
In other cases, the firm filed suits that were dismissed because they
failed to follow court rules or present credible arguments against foreclosure.
A few clients saved their homes by hiring new lawyers, but others were evicted,
the original complaint said.
“(Henrioulle and Uy) took advantage of vulnerable, desperate homeowners," McElroy said. "(They) let Soudani take over their office knowing he
was ineligible to practice law.”
After the initial ruling by McElroy, the attorneys appealed, but
a three-judge review panel upheld most of McElroy’s findings, including that
they aided and abetted the unauthorized practice of law, engaged in moral
turpitude and failed to respond to clients, account, return unearned fees or
notify the State Bar they were employing a resigned attorney.
The official judge panel document agreed in the findings that the firm
known as the Law Offices of Uy and Henrioulle did pair with former attorney
Tarik Sami Soudani, hiring him as their office manager. Furthermore, Henrioulle
and Uy took on as many as 200 clients between July 2009 and October 2011,
entering into agreements with them to perform loan modifications and file
lawsuits against their lenders that they claimed would lower their mortgage
rates or stop foreclosure.
Clients, some of them immigrants who learned of the firm from foreign-language
radio stations, paid upfront fees of $3,995 to $4,500, followed by monthly
payments initially set at $500, which rose to $650 and then $850. Despite no
longer being a lawyer, Soudani was allowed to meet with clients and in many of
the cases Uy and Henrioulle did little or no work, causing the clients to lose
their homes anyway.
Writing on behalf of the panel, Judge Judith A. Epstein noted that
Henrioulle and Uy used a broad intake process that gave them far more clients
than they could handle, and advertised to financially distressed people, many
of whom spoke English as a second language.
They also failed to supervise their litigation manager, a resigned
attorney who made misrepresentations to clients and held himself out as
entitled to practice law when he wasn’t.
“It was a system designed to fail,” Epstein said. “The breadth of
Henrioulle and Uy’s incompetence, coupled with the nonrefundable retainers and
monthly fees collected regardless of whether services were provided, greatly
exacerbated the harm sustained by vulnerable clients, many of whom lost their
causes of action and endured foreclosures and evictions.”
Although McElroy initially found the attorneys exploited clients
for personal gain without intending to perform, the judge review panel
concluded there was evidence they provided legal services – just not always
with competence or success.
“In many instances, they failed to competently provide legal services
to their clients, and many lost their homes,” Epstein said. “Other clients were
able to keep their homes, usually through their own efforts to restructure
Based on these findings and corroborations with McElroy, Henrioulle
and Uy were ordered to pay $41,314.22 plus interest in restitution to six
clients, as ordered by the judge panel. Henrioulle was ordered to pay an
additional $17,610 in restitution to two other clients.