A local attorney was arrested Wednesday, Aug 5, after an investigation by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office showed he stole up to $210,000 of a client’s money.
During a July 24 disbarment hearing by the California Bar, Oakdale attorney James Fonda was found to have misappropriated $194,440.36 of a client’s funds from Sept. 9, 2009 to Jan. 24, 2012. The hearing also found that Fonda did pay back $10,340.36 during that time period.
As a result of the hearing, Fonda was required to pay back to the client, David Lane of San Jose, $184,099.80 plus 10 percent interest per year from September 2010.
Stanislaus DA Investigator Glenn Gulley said he was contacted by the California Bar in June and informed that they were taking action against Fonda for the theft. According to the bar report, Fonda was entrusted with $486,707.77 from Lane and that Fonda stole approximately $190,000 to $210,000 of the money by writing a total of 163 separate checks to himself between September 2009 to January 2011 from the account the money was deposited into.
Lane told State Bar and DA investigators that he had inherited two San Jose homes and lost them in foreclosure but realized he had $486,706 in equity proceeds from the public auction. Lane was going through a divorce, and Fonda persuaded him to put the money in a trust account controlled by Fonda to keep his wife from having access to it. Fonda allegedly told Lane anytime he needed money Fonda would issue him a check and he could cash it.
During the two-year period, Lane, who the report says is disabled and has cancer, would ask about the money and Fonda would tell him it was best left in a bank account. When records were asked for by Lane, Fonda would fail to provide them.
In April 2014, Lane contacted Fonda and demanded an accounting of the money. Fonda never provided the accounting.
According to court documents, Fonda used the money to pay his rent, his payroll and other personal business expenses without the approval and knowledge of Lane.
Lane told Investigator Gulley that he believed Fonda also bought a Jaguar and paid for a family trip to Paris with his wife and gave a Christmas bonus to his secretary with Lane’s money.
Lane said he never gave Fonda permission to write checks from the account to himself.
Fonda has two other disciplinary actions from the California State Bar.
In November 2004, Fonda was reprimanded for abandoning two family law clients and depositing proceeds from a relative’s estate into his personal bank account and failing to withdraw the earned fees at the earliest reasonable time.
As a result Fonda was required to attend ethics school, develop a law office management plan, and get monthly treatment from a mental health professional for a one-year period.
In October 2009, Fonda was again disciplined for abandoning a client in a divorce case and once again was required to attend ethics school.
The California Bar notes that with the severity of the current accusation and the two prior disciplinary actions, Fonda should be disbarred by the California Supreme Court.
Fonda is charged with felony grand theft with a criminal enhancement since the loss is over $100,00