Attorney Steven R. Liss is once again brought to the attention of the 10News I-Team, after a flood of calls and e-mails from frustrated former clients.
Liss runs a family law practice in La Jolla, and convinces potential clients he's an expert in adoptions and divorces. Former clients have a much less flattering description.
"A person that doesn't have a heart," says Jackie Rowland.
"He's a fraud," adds Lois King.
King and her husband, Robert, hired Liss to try to gain custody of their granddaughter, who was then 3 years old. Liss asked for $10,000 up front. The Kings told him they could only give him $5,000. He accepted, and cashed the check that very day.
They felt confident, and Robert King thought at the time, "He's in La Jolla, he must be a fairly knowledgeable person."
Lois says he seemed to really care.
"He said he had done thousands of adoptions and never lost a case."
This case was very important to them. Their daughter lost custody of their granddaughter due to drug issues. They decided to try and raise the girl themselves.
"She's a very beautiful little girl, she loved to run and play all the time."
But the custody hearings didn't go well for the Kings, and they say Liss didn't do anything to help them.
"I asked him if he filed the paperwork and he said no, he didn't have the time."
The granddaughter wound up with another family. Lois and Robert don't even have visitation rights.
"We don't get to see her, we don't get to call her, we don't get to do anything, and it hurts. It hurts really bad," said Lois.
Rowland is another unsatisfied client of Liss. She hired him to try to get back child support. She paid him $3,500 upfront, although he asked for more.
She says he made big promises, "I'll take your ex to court, you'll get your money, you'll end up with everything, don't worry."
Liss delivered nothing. Rowland called his office several times, and she says he was avoiding her. One night, she received a strange call.
"His secretary called, who worked in his office, and said, 'Jackie, he's taking advantage of you and several other women,'" Rowland said.
Both Rowland and the Kings have filed complaints with the State Bar, the agency that regulates and disciplines attorneys. There is no way to tell how many complaints Liss has against him, that's private.
What's public? The outcomes of previous bar disciplinary action going back 7 years. Liss has been cited for "multiple acts of wrongdoing" ... of "intentionally, recklessly, or repeatedly failing to perform legal services with competence." Even with this record, he can still solicit new clients.
Bob Fellmeth, Price Professor of Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego, says California's State Bar Court is unique. Independent judges are appointed by the State Supreme Court to oversee trials. That's good. On the other hand, it's other lawyers who decide which lawyers should be prosecuted.
"They select their regulators themselves, by their own number; I think that is a flaw," said Fellmeth.
The I-Team is in contact with law enforcement looking into whether Liss' professional behavior belongs not in the State Bar Court, but the criminal court system.
That's an easy question for Lois King.
"I think they should take his license away, and lock him up forever," said Lois.
The I-Team sent Steven Liss details of the complaints from his clients and invited him to respond. He did, through his attorney David Cameron Carr.
Mr. Carr writes, "Mr. Liss declines to respond to your invitation to comment on the allegations contained in your letter. He cannot comment about these matters without risking a breach of his duty of confidentiality (see Business and Professions Code 6068(e))."
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