Claremont attorney accused of taking thousands of dollars from clients

A Claremont attorney has been arrested and charged with three counts of grand theft.

James Patrick Stoneman, 64, was arrested at his home on the 400 block of Potomac Way around 10:35 a.m. on Wednesday, August 9, according to Lt. Mike Ciszek of the Claremont Police Department.

He has pled not guilty to all three counts, and a preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday, September 27, according to the Los Angeles County Superior Court database.

Mr. Stoneman is accused of taking thousands of dollars from three separate clients on July 17, 2014, August 19, 2014 and August 25, 2015, according to a criminal complaint from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

When reached by phone on Wednesday, Mr. Stoneman’s attorney, Mark Haddon, declined to comment.

Deborah Toga, one of the victims named in the complaint, said she met Mr. Stoneman in August 2015 and gave him a $3,000 retainer for legal services.

“Once the check was cashed, he disappeared,” Ms. Toga said in an email.

Two of the victims whose names appear in the criminal complaint also appear in disciplinary files from the California State Bar against Mr. Stoneman.

Mr. Stoneman is alleged to have taken $3,000 from a client named in the criminal complaint and reportedly failing to perform any subsequent attorney services, according to California State Bar documents filed in October 2016.

Mr. Stoneman was noted as “failing to promptly refund, upon termination of his employment, any part of the unearned $3,000 advanced fee paid by his client, as respondent performed no services on behalf of his client for which he was retained,” according to the California State Bar document written by Judge Yvette D. Roland.

The state bar also accused Mr. Stoneman of failing to respond to any of that client’s inquiries.

In another case, Mr. Stoneman is accused of taking $5,000 from a client named in the criminal complaint and failing to perform attorney services or refund the money when the client terminated Mr. Stoneman’s employment.

In both cases, the state bar ordered Mr. Stoneman to repay the clients, in addition to 10 percent interest per year from the date the money was taken.

Ms. Toga shared that Mr. Stoneman was also disciplined for similar issues in 2013 at the time he took her retainer fee.

“I believe at the same time he was doing this to me he was also doing this same scheme with others,” she said.

A state bar document filed on September 6, 2013 alleged earlier instances of Mr. Stoneman taking fees from clients and failing to perform services. The state bar ordered Mr. Stoneman to submit quarterly reports within a year, attend ethics classes and to take and pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) test.

According to another document from the state bar from August 2015, he failed to do so in a timely manner and was reprimanded once more.

In these documents, mitigation measures outlined family health problems, as well as a spotless record up until 2013.

Mr. Stoneman was officially disbarred from practicing law on March 31, according to a letter from Deputy Trial Counsel Shane Morrison of the California State Bar.

Ms. Toga lauded investigators for pursuing charges against Mr. Stoneman.

“He willingly and knowingly took money from innocent victims for his own benefit, using this money to benefit himself,” she said.

Mr. Stoneman’s preliminary hearing is set for September 27.

—Matthew Bramlett


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