State bar court public reproves L. A. attorney over demand letter drafted while ineligible

By Karen Kidd | Jan 10, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO — Los Angeles attorney Brooke Lee Butner has been publicly and conditionally reproved following a Dec. 19 decision by the California State Bar Court over two counts of misconduct.

In the contested disciplinary proceeding against her, Butner was charged with engaging in unauthorized practice of law and committing an act of moral turpitude, according to the 17-page decision and order of public reproval issued by the state bar court.

"This court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that [Butner] is culpable of the charged misconduct," the decision and order said. "In view of her misconduct, as well as the compelling evidence in mitigation, [Butner] is hereby publicly reproved with attached conditions."

Butner's recommended discipline was among the dispositions filed earlier this month by the state bar court's hearing department for December and the state bar court's decision and order was uploaded to her profile this week.  

Butner was admitted to the bar in California on Dec. 10, 2015, according to her profile at the state bar website.

Allegations against Butner stemmed from her failure to pay her first state bar membership dues, which had been due Feb. 1, 2016, according to details in the state bar court's decision and order. In May 2016 the California Supreme Court ordered Butner suspended for nonpayment of fees, effective July 1 of that year.

The Supreme Court's order "explicitly stated" that Butner was precluded from practicing law in the state, the decision said.

In February 2017, Butner drafted and mailed a demand letter in a contractural dispute on behalf of two friends who said "they were unable to secure alternate counsel," the decision said. Butner informed her friends that she "had allowed her California law license to lapse for failure to pay fees and that she was not authorized to practice law in California" but agreed to the demand letter on a pro bono basis, the order said.

The demand letter was on Butner's legal letterhead, referred to Butner as "Attorney at Law" and referred to her friends as clients but did not disclose that Butner was not authorized to practice law in California. The following July, Butner paid her outstanding state bar membership fees and was reinstated to practice law.

Butner later admitted that sending the demand letter violated state bar rules.

The state bar court found no aggravating circumstances but assigned "significant mitigation credit" for her cooperation in the proceedings and stipulation to "relevant facts" in the matter.  

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