Former Oakdale attorney James Fonda, who was convicted of grand theft on Sept. 17, was sentenced to one year in county jail on Oct. 5 and will have to provide full restitution of $180,000 to his victim, a disabled San Jose man. Fonda will also have to complete five years of formal felony probation.
In September 2009, then-attorney James Fonda received over $486,000 on behalf of his disabled client. The money was the remaining equity of a foreclosed home that was auctioned at a trustee sale. The victim had inherited the home. Since the victim was also going through a divorce, Fonda agreed to keep the money in his client trust fund account to conceal the inheritance from being included in any divorce settlement. Between September 2009 and February 2012, Fonda withdrew over $194,000 via 163 separate checks written to himself for personal reasons without his client’s permission. Fonda used the money to purchase a Jaguar, pay for a European vacation and gamble at casinos.
“The victim sought out an attorney to help him,” stated Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Mangar in a press release announcing the conviction, “and Fonda took advantage of his position of trust to then swindle the money.”
Although Fonda had no criminal history and had acknowledged wrongdoing to investigators before his arrest, Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden sentenced him to the maximum term of three years in prison, but suspended that sentence while he is on five years of formal felony probation. During his time on probation, Fonda is ordered to serve one year in jail and to make full restitution.
“This was more than a one-time lapse of judgment,” stated prosecutor Mangar, “which violated the public trust and cost Fonda his law practice.”
Fonda was disbarred and can no longer practice law in California.