A Paso Robles attorney faces a suspension of his license for the second time in recent years after a July 2 ruling by a judge in the State Bar Court of California that he improperly collected a fee from a client in 2008.
Adam Ranald Fairbairn was charged with obtaining an allegedly illegal $10,000 fee in a probate case and for failure to refund the money.
State bar court Judge Pat McElroy also found him culpable of an act of moral turpitude, meaning he did something dishonest or corrupt by professional standards.
The state bar court, which recommended a two-year suspension of Fairbairn’s license, operates separately from criminal or civil court. Its role is to protect the public and maintain professional standards for attorneys.
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Fairbairn had a previous nine-month suspension of his license and a criminal conviction related to his firing of a gun at two men who tried to repossess his truck in 2006. He told The Tribune that he plans to remedy his latest case and resume his career.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Fairbairn said. “It seems like I’m a moving target. I plan to fix this and practice again.”
Under California law, lawyers for executors of wills are supposed to obtain a court order for the payment of fees for services and Fairbairn never did so, McElroy wrote in her decision filed July 2.
Fairbairn engaged in “a scheme” with the executor of an estate to violate probate statutes and obtain a $10,000 fee from a beneficiary, which he refused to return, McElroy ruled.
Fairbairn was hired by Paula Fisk, the executor of her aunt Marilyn June Neal’s estate. Neal died in August 2007.
According to McElroy, Fisk wanted some of Neal’s mineral rights because she had been Neal’s primary caretaker. Neal’s two children were named as her beneficiaries of the estate.
In a February 2008 letter, Fairbairn demanded $10,000 each from Neal’s children — Bruce Brymer and Lynette Potter — for the executor and attorney’s fees associated with administration of the estate. The letter also spelled out that if they couldn’t pay, then one-third of their interest in the mineral rights of Neal’s estate would go to Fisk.
Brymer paid Fairbairn the money in March 2008, taking investment funds from his 401(k) plan. But Potter told Fairbairn she couldn’t make the payment and signed over one-third of her mineral rights to Fisk.
Fisk later learned that Fairbairn was in County Jail from the 2006 shooting incident and sought to be dismissed from the ongoing probate. A judge granted the dismissal, causing her one-third mineral rights to be voided.
In her ruling earlier this month, McElroy recommended a two-year suspension of Fairbairn’s license and additional conditions that he must meet to practice again, including repayment of the client’s money plus 10 percent interest from March 14, 2008, to the present.
The judge took into consideration Fairbairn’s prior record regarding the shooting incident, for which he was convicted criminally in San Luis Obispo Superior Court of three counts: felony assault with a firearm, discharging a firearm with gross negligence and misdemeanor brandishing a firearm.
The California Supreme Court can impose an order regarding Fairbairn’s latest case if he doesn’t file a notice for review of the state bar court ruling within 30 days, according to California state bar spokeswoman Laura Ernde.
In his defense, Fairbairn cited numerous references of good character, including statements from his doctor and a correctional officer.
Former Paso Robles City Councilman Jim Heggarty said that Fairbairn helped get a scholarship foundation started and was a “pillar of the community.”