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Bar Unplugs Net based Defense Firm

July 30, 2007

From the San Francisco California Recorder Monday July 9, 2007

Working for Robert Nudelman must have been a really bad experience — because some of the fellow lawyers in his Woodland Hills, CA firm decided to take him down.

State Bar officials announced July 9, 2007 that they shut down Nudelman’s Criminal Defense Associates Inc. last week because the firm had become “incapable” of properly representing its 150 clients who face criminal charges.

Nudelman resigned from practicing law immediately, officials said in a press statement, after the State Bar seized about 700 files, froze the firm’s bank accounts and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

California State Bar Deputy Trial Counsel Kimberly Anderson said July 9, 2007 that some of the lawyers employed by Nudelman are largely responsible for stopping Nudelman before things got worse.

“They were concerned,” she said. “Some of them are pretty competent criminal defense attorneys.

“Many of these attorneys,” Anderson added, “have been concerned about their clients and have come forward to help us.”

Nudelman was managing partner and sole shareholder of Criminal Defense Associates, which was created in 2003 and marketed itself mostly on the Internet as a nationwide law firm specializing in sexual and drug offenses. The firm employed about 10 criminal defense lawyers and accepted cases from all over the country.

State Bar Chief Trial Counsel Scott Drexel said the firm’s business model was “fraught with problems.” He said the firm appeared to violate multiple provisions of the Bar’s professional conduct rules, including engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, failing to refund unearned fees and not maintaining client funds in a trust account.

In some cases, Drexel noted, the firm’s lawyers were giving legal advice to clients in states in which they didn’t have the right to practice law. “We’re finding that more and more in the day of Internet advertising and the like,” he said.

In fact, Nudelman blamed the Internet on his problems. In a declaration filed with the State Bar’s action in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Nudelman claimed his firm became insolvent because the cost of Internet advertising began exceeding the amount the firm was receiving in fees. Nonetheless, the State Bar noted, Nudelman kept accepting fees of about $50,000 per case while going bankrupt.

“The problems created by Criminal Defense Associates Inc.,” Drexel said in a prepared statement, “graphically demonstrate the inherent danger to potential clients and the public in the operation of a nationwide law firm based largely upon Internet advertising and without adequate administrative controls or supervision.”

In a telephone interview on Monday, Drexel said the State Bar shut down about 30 firms last year.

“A number of them, it may be because the attorney has died or become incapacitated or just left the practice. Or sometimes they abandoned the practice,” he said. “But there have been a dozen cases or so in the last year where we felt the attorney was incapable of practicing competently and was endangering the clients’ money.”

Neither Drexel nor Anderson would say whether any of the firm’s other attorneys are being investigated.

Telephone calls to Criminal Defense Associates Inc. were redirected Monday to the State Bar, where a recorded voice advised clients that the firm’s files are being inventoried and that letters will be mailed soon telling how to retrieve them. It also advises clients to contact the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s lawyer referral service.

Andersonsaid clients might need to secure new counsel and that Nudelman is required to return unearned fees. “But the problem is he says he doesn’t have them,” she said. “[Clients] may have a civil action against him.”

Two of the firm’s lawyers — Kristine Burk of Sebastopoland Evan Zelig of Woodland Hills — asked the State Bar to place their contact information on the Bar’s recorded message so clients could reach them.

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