ESCONDIDO ATTORNEY DISBARRED FOR MISAPPROPRIATING MORE THAN $275,000
San Francisco, Jan. 30, 2013 – An Escondido attorney has agreed to be disbarred for misappropriating more than $275,000 in inheritance money from an elderly client.
As part of the stipulation filed with the State Bar Court on Jan. 16, Sydney Claire Kirkland, 57, has been ordered to pay restitution of $275,642.46, plus 10-percent interest per year from Feb. 3, 2011, soon after which money belonging to client Grover Gordon Jr. started to rapidly disappear from her client trust account. She was ordered ineligible to practice law effective Jan. 19, pending approval of her disbarment by the California Supreme Court.
According to the stipulation, Kirkland [bar # 213138] was named a successor co-trustee for the estate of Jeanette Letman, who passed away on Jan. 15, 2011 leaving everything to Gordon, her longtime companion. Over the course of 10 months, $285,729.93 that was supposedly being kept in a trust account for Gordon dwindled to just over $10,000, as Kirkland transferred money to her husband, her non-trust business accounts and to unrelated third parties.
Senior Trial Counsel Kristin L. Ritsema said it is unclear where all of the money went but that some was used to pay Kirkland’s personal bills and $23,000 went toward the purchase of an Audi. Over the course of representing Gordon, Kirkland repeatedly lied about what she had done with the money, saying she was keeping it in an investment account and two certificates of deposit.
Concerned that something suspicious was going on with the account, a bank manager alerted Adult Protective Services. Gordon’s new attorney initiated probate proceedings. A San Diego County Superior Court judge suspended Kirkland’s powers as successor co-trustee on Oct. 17, 2011. Even so, money continued to disappear from the account – more than $37,000 – until Kirkland admitted through her attorney that she had used the money for non-trust purposes.
“That’s probably the most shocking aspect of it,” Ritsema said of the continuing misappropriation.
In addition to her likely disbarment, Kirkland is facing three felonies – including theft from a dependent adult and grand theft – plus related criminal enhancements. Despite the fact that none of the money has been repaid to Gordon, Ritsema said that the 80-year-old was more concerned about others than his own finances.
“His motivation in filing the complaint wasn’t so much about the money, it was so this wouldn’t happen to anyone else,” she said. “He just didn’t want anyone else victimized by this attorney.”
The State Bar of California is an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, serving the public and seeking to improve the justice system for more than 80 years. All lawyers practicing law in California must be members of the State Bar. By January 2013, membership reached 242,000.