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Client reacts to former attorney disbarred, ordered to pay more than $370,000 in restitution

Gerrymandering case hits Supreme Court
Posted at 4:18 PM, Jul 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 21:23:42-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A local divorce attorney has been disbarred and ordered to pay back more than $370,000 in restitution after the State Bar found her culpable of misappropriating those funds from her clients.

Jose Patino said Barbara McDaniel Harris was his ex-wife's attorney during their divorce, which was filed over a decade ago in 2004.

Harris is now barred from practicing law in the state, as a Supreme Court ruled. She is also currently facing felony charges of embezzlement.

"It makes me feel so angry, I just can't believe the way they work and they let people get away with those things," said Patino.

Harris represented Patino's wife Nora during their divorce in 2004. During that time, 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. According to the State Bar, Harris misappropriated a total of $368,000 from that fund.

Now Harris is ordered to repay that money, but Patino said he has little hope of seeing a dime.

Patino said that after nearly 15 years battling this case he has lost hope in the justice system. He said it began with these allegations against Harris, but carried on throughout the case and with the State Bar.

"Truth is this case has been one of those cases that nobody wants to talk about," he said.

Patino's attorney Dennis Braun said he filed the complaint against Harris with the State Bar back in 2015. According to the State Bar, official disciplinary charges were filed back in 2018.

"She was an officer of the court, sworn to protect that money," said Braun. "It took three years for them to bring charges on the State Bar, then another three years to make a decision."

Patino said he's unsure he'll ever see restitution, partly because he has not seen or heard from Harris since 2012. Since the Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar held a trial July 2, 2019, and found Harris culpable of multiple allegations, he said he has still not heard anything.

"She has already be held accountable for that, and they need to do something," said Patino.

Braun and Patino also said they doubt to see any assistance from the State Bar. In cases of attorney misconduct, the State Bar has a discretionary fund known as the Client Security Fund meant to reimburse clients who have lost money or property due to theft or dishonest conduct by a California lawyer.

Yet Patino said he has not seen any of his funds returned.

"I've been robbed, they mistreated my case, and Barbara Harris has been helped more than I have, as the criminal," Patino said. "They need to respond and they need to apologize."

Braun said even if the Patinos did receive some restitution, he's not sure how much it would mean at this point.

"It doesn't mean very much. What it means, is the Patinos had their life-savings stolen from them." Braun said. "They could've rebuilt their lives back then."

23ABC reached out to Harris asking for comment, but she has not responded.

She has a preliminary hearing set for September 2 at 8:30 a.m.