Banning attorney suspended over allegations in three bankruptcy matters, trust account issues

By Karen Kidd | May 6, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO – Banning attorney Thomas Lee Watkins has been suspended following a Feb. 1 California Supreme Court order over three bankruptcy matters and trust fund irregularities, according to a recent report issued by the State Bar of California and court documents.

The Supreme Court handed down a stayed two-year suspension and two years' conditional probation with 18 months' actual suspension.

The high court also ordered Watkins to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam and to pay costs as part of the conditions of his probation.

Watkins' discipline was effective March 3, according to a report provided to the Northern California Record Friday by the state bar.

Watkins was admitted to the bar in California on Dec. 14, 1992, according to his profile at the state bar website. Watkins had no prior discipline before the state bar, according to his profile.

Allegations against Watkins stem, in part, from a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition he was hired to file in June 2016, in addition to negotiating with creditors and two leans, according to the stipulation filed with the California State Bar Court in October. The client paid Watkins $2,000, which was to include $335 for filing fees.

"Thereafter, [Watkins neither] failed to deposit the advanced fees into a client trust account nor used the advanced filings fees to file the petition or for any other purpose on [the client]'s behalf," the stipulation said. "Instead, [Watkins] intentionally and dishonestly used the filing fees for his own personal purposes."

In late summer 2017, the client tried multiple times to call or text Watkins but could not reach him, the stipulation staed. The client's Chapter 7 petition was granted but the liens were not resolved and Watkins "constructively withdrew" from representing the client, the stipulation said.

In August 2018, Watkins refunded $869.77 to the client after the state bar began its disciplinary proceedings.

Watkins also allegedly made 67 payments from his trust account for personal expenses between Aug. 20, 2016, and May 26, 2017, according to the stipulation.

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