Finally, a bankruptcy judge acted to protect the public from the pitiful practices of Las Vegas bankruptcy attorney Randolph Goldberg.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mike Nakagawa said Goldberg can’t take on any new clients for six months, starting Dec. 4. However, Goldberg can continue representing existing clients.
Have you noticed Goldberg’s ubiquitous ads are missing from the television airwaves? It’s like having chiggers go away. Suddenly you realize that annoying itch is gone.
In his opinion regarding Susan Goodman’s bankruptcy case, Nakagawa made some stunning conclusions about Goldberg, who said he takes on about 200 new clients a month. By that tally, Nakagawa’s order blocked about 1,200 people from going to Goldberg when they are desperate and need a bankruptcy attorney.
Two bankruptcy judges, the U.S. attorney’s office and the State Bar of Nevada have taken hard looks at Goldberg’s questionable practices, but Nakagawa’s order is the first to actually protect the public, at least for six months.
In December 2010, the State Bar of Nevada consolidated 10 complaints against Goldberg and decided to file a formal complaint against him. It wasn’t filed until June 2011 and is still plodding through the disciplinary process.
In September, Goldberg was indicted and accused of tax evasion, but as that lumbers through the court system, it doesn’t prevent Goldberg from practicing in bankruptcy court, nor should it.
Nakagawa’s order made some shocking revelations about Goldberg’s bankruptcy practices, revelations that come directly from the attorney’s own mouth.
By his own admission, Goldberg signed tax returns in the names of thousands of his clients, making it appear that the returns had been prepared by the clients. This attorney believed he had the right to do this. He testified, "I’ve had no issues with the IRS or anybody ever saying anything, and it’s been going on for 13 years with the IRS directly. No one’s ever said a word, and no clients ever complained."
Actually, a former client, Goodman, did complain. She had no idea he had filed returns for her for four years until the Internal Revenue Service wrote her she owed them money.
Goldberg was sanctioned twice by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Bruce Markell in 2009, who asked the U.S. attorney’s office to investigate the possibility of forgery by Goldberg and whether he commingled his clients’ money with his own.
Despite Markell’s sanctions, Nakagawa wrote that "Goldberg’s unprofessional, and in some instances possibly criminal, conduct continues."
Markell and Nakagawa are the first line of defense to protect the public from incompetent or unethical bankruptcy attorneys. Banning someone from filing cases for any length of time is a major discipline because it hits the attorney in the wallet.
Although the State Bar has the potential to recommend Goldberg’s disbarment, it’s a long process.
A bar disciplinary panel held two days of hearings in the fall. A third day in December had to be postponed, and now a date is expected in May to finish the hearing, Assistant Bar Counsel Phil Pattee said.
Any public disciplinary action such as a public reprimand, a suspension, or a disbarment then must go to the Nevada Supreme Court for a final decision. The first of the 10 complaints was filed with the bar in 2007.
Speed is not the bar’s forte.
Goodman and her husband, Lonny Goodman, started this sanction case against Goldberg in January 2009 and aren’t happy with the time it’s taken to get the judge’s decision. Nakagawa ordered Goldberg to repay their bankruptcy costs, which add up to more than $6,000. The judge ordered Goldberg to pay his former client’s attorney’s fees, which she estimated surpassed $60,000. Goldberg is disputing the attorney fees but has paid Goodman.
She said she has hired an attorney to file a malpractice case against Goldberg, another long process, and will ask for punitive damages.
"I’m worse off now than I’ve ever been," Goodman said. "He’s ruined my life."
As a result of her seeking sanctions nearly four years ago, it also was learned that Goldberg’s staff was forging credit counseling reports; his notary for seven years wasn’t keeping a notary book; Goldberg introduced a nonlawyer, Adam Parmelee, as his partner; and Goldberg or his staff impersonated clients and filed fraudulent credit counseling reports with the court.
Goldberg said in emails that he will resume advertising when the time is right and that he is appealing Nakagawa’s order.
"I will be filing bankruptcy cases very soon and handling my current clients with the care I always have for them," Goldberg wrote.
Nakagawa referred the attorney for investigation by the U.S. attorney, the Nevada secretary of state, the Nevada attorney general, the Clark County district attorney, the State Bar of Nevada and the office of the United States Trustee.
"Goldberg’s violations are aggravated by his previous disciplinary misconduct, his multiple offenses and pattern of misconduct and his refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct," Nakagawa wrote.
Six different bureaucracies, including two that already have investigated Goldberg, were asked to investigate him.
But the fact is, when his six-month prohibition against new clients is ended, the TV ads will resume.
Based on a rough estimate of $5,000 a client and 200 clients a month, Goldberg probably will be back to grossing about $12 million a year, unless bankruptcy filings fall off.
However, he may need to change his TV ads, which promise to help people with their problems, considering the multitude of problems he faces.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison.