Attorney Allen Kent was dinged Thursday for missing an oral argument before the California Supreme Court earlier this year. But his former boss got hammered.
In a long-awaited ruling, the high court fined Kent $250 and Raul Aguilar $1,000 after holding both in contempt for missing the Feb. 10 argument in Sacramento.
The justices called Aguilar’s derelictions “significantly more serious” and referred him to the State Bar for further investigation and possible additional disciplinary sanctions after finding he repeatedly lied to the court.
“Under the circumstances, we believe the evidence amply supports the State Bar Court’s finding that Aguilar lied to this court when he stated repeatedly that he was unaware, prior to Feb. 10, 2004, of the date and time of the scheduled oral argument in Aguilar v. Lerner,” the justices wrote in an unsigned ruling.
“It is, of course, an extremely serious breach of an attorney’s duty to a court to lie in statements made to the court,” they continued, “and an intentionally false statement made by an attorney to a court clearly constitutes a contempt of court.”
Aguilar, a partner in San Francisco’s Aguilar & Sebastinelli, couldn’t be reached for comment. An office receptionist said he was on a business trip to London.
Kent and his lawyer, San Francisco solo practitioner Philip Ryan, were frustrated that he was found in contempt.
“It’s not about money,” Ryan said. “Henceforth, proven lies and redundant perjury can now form the predicate for a contempt sanction against the victim of such mendacity.
“Lawyers who are now discharged from a firm or retire from a firm or leave one firm to go to another or ascend to the bench,” he added, “now shoulder the duty to inform all courts in which they have appeared of their new status.”
Ryan said he might request a rehearing, noting that three justices filed a concurring and dissenting opinion stating that Kent should not have been held in contempt.
Kent, 65, and Aguilar, 62, have been in hot water since neither showed up for oral argument in a case stemming from a malpractice suit Aguilar had filed against San Francisco divorce lawyer Esther Lerner.
Kent maintained he wasn’t the attorney of record, having been “constructively terminated” from the five-lawyer firm five days before the Supreme Court argument date. Aguilar insisted that Kent was still the attorney of record and had not put him on notice that the argument was forthcoming.