Couple have a cautionary tale for anyone hiring an attorney

For a second time, Las Vegas attorney Randolph Goldberg has been sanctioned by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Bruce Markell. But this time, the judge also referred the case to the U.S. attorney for possible criminal prosecution on forgery allegations. Plus Markell is referring Goldberg to the State Bar of Nevada for a possible violation of professional rules governing attorney misconduct.

The State Bar of Nevada has 10 pending complaints against Goldberg. Nine of the 10 complaints are headed to the bar’s screening panel for decisions whether to go forward, Assistant Bar Counsel Phil Pattee said. The 10th has not been evaluated.

On top of all that, Goldberg has another unresolved complaint for sanctions against him pending before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mike Nakagawa. The judge has not decided the merits of that sanction request from Goldberg’s former client, Susan Goodman.

Goldberg’s face should be familiar. He advertises on television, saying, "I’ll eliminate your problems and save your home. That’s what I do."

One Las Vegas couple who hired Goldberg wanted exactly that. They wanted to save their home from foreclosure. Alfonso and Editha Pagaduan testified they hired Goldberg because they "saw him on TV."

That was their first mistake, in my humble opinion.

However, television advertising works. Goldberg told the judge he files about 200 bankruptcy cases a month, and during the past 13 years, he has filed as many as 25,000 bankruptcy cases.

Goldberg filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy for the Pagaduans on May 15 and filed certificates of completion of credit counseling dated that same day.

The couple said Goldberg forged their signatures on those certificates. Markell found their statements credible, especially because their passports showed they were in Canada at the time they were supposedly doing online credit counseling at Goldberg’s office.

"Goldberg, or someone in his office, impersonated (the couple) online to complete the class. This is forgery," Markell wrote in his 22-page opinion, asking the U.S. attorney’s office to look into it.

Markell also said Goldberg’s testimony revealed he co-mingled his clients’ funds with his own, another potential violation of Nevada’s Rules for Professional Standards. Markell referred that to the State Bar.

The judge, who is aggressive about sanctioning lawyers he believes are not handling their clients’ cases professionally, previously sanctioned Goldberg with a public reprimand for mishandling Raymond Sanford’s bankruptcy.

The judge wrote that Goldberg violates professional standards, disregards the trust his clients put in him and deceives people in their moments of weakness. In the Pagaduan case, "Goldberg seemed more interested in churning volume and moving on to the next fee than actually understanding what the (Pagaduans) were hoping to accomplish."

Asked for comment for this column, Goldberg, in five rambling e-mails, wrote he might appeal Markell’s ruling, calling it "biased and with no fact but his gut and hatred for me."

Nevada leads the nation in foreclosures, and a lot of people seek the protection of bankruptcy court in an effort to save their homes. How do they find a good lawyer?

The State Bar of Nevada has a Lawyer Referral & Information Service, a list of 250 attorneys who are in good standing in different fields and will see a client for a $45 initial consultation. There are 25 lawyers on that list who do bankruptcies, and the names are rotated in order. You can call (702) 382-0504 and ask for a referral for any kind of case.

The referral service certainly beats picking a lawyer based on how prosperous they look on TV or how catchy their slogan might be.

The Pagaduans found that out. They couldn’t be reached for comment, but public records show they lost the Spring Valley home they bought in 2000 for $178,000. It’s now owned by the Federal National Mortgage Association. The retiree and his wife, a semi-retired nurse, no longer own any property in Clark County.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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