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Sentencing postponed for former Bakersfield attorney charged with embezzlement

Court
Posted at 12:43 PM, Nov 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 18:24:06-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The sentencing for a former Bakersfield divorce attorney who was disbarred for misappropriating clients' funds and is now facing felony embezzlement charges was postponed, according to court records.

Barbara Harris was disbarred earlier this year after the California State Bar found she misappropriated a total of $368,000 funds from clients she represented in a divorce. In June, the Kern County District Attorney's Office filed charges against Harris after a police investigation showed those funds were still missing.

Court records show that the sentencing for Harris was postponed due to a change in representation. Harris' attorney said that a motion to withdraw the plea was put on the calendar due to the changes, but no motion was officially filed yet. At this time her new attorney is reviewing the case.

Records show that in 2004, Harris represented a woman in a divorce proceeding. During proceedings, Harris was in charge of money the couple received from selling property. Harris was meant to disburse the money to each spouse and maintain records of the client trust account.

The account held funds of $888,510.64 from the property sale of a family home. According to the State Bar, Harris misappropriated a total of $368,000 from that fund.

Police records confirmed that at least $304,172.90 were unaccounted for in Harris' client trust account. When police interviewed Harris regarding the missing funds, she was unable to provide a reasonable explanation for where the unaccounted funds went, according to police reports.

Police reports said that according to bank records acquired from Harris' account, the account remained at $0 from April of 2009 to July 2009, and at its peak, the account had no more than $383.45. Police said this was suspicious considering the peak was in June 2010, and Harris had said she stopped representing that client some time in 2009, according to court documents.

According to court documents, Harris said she did not know why the account had so little money in it and "she knew it had more money than indicated."

As part of her disbarment, Harris was ordered to pay $370,000 in restitution to the couple. Jose Patino, the husband represented in this case, said that he and his ex-wife each received $100,000 from the State Bar's Client Security Fund, a fund set up to reimburse clients who have lost money or property due to theft or dishonest conduct by a California lawyer. He said they have not received any funds from Harris.

Harris is scheduled to return to court on Dec. 9.