Darryl Genis | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

A judge for the State Bar of California has recommended a two-year suspension for Darryl Wayne Genis, a flamboyant Santa Barbara DUI attorney who has a history of courting high-profile cases as often as he does headline-grabbing controversy. 

In her May 18 decision, Judge Cynthia Valenzuela cited two previous disciplinary actions against Genis ― a 30-day suspension for skipping scheduled hearings and “asking prohibited questions at trial,” and a 60-day suspension for surreptitiously rifling through papers on a prosecutor’s desk during a break in court proceedings, then “knowingly and intentionally misleading a judge” when confronted. 

The “multiple acts of wrongdoing” by Genis, who has openly antagonized judges and prosecutors with personally belittling comments and threatened journalists with legal action who report on his behavior, demonstrate “bad faith, substantial harm to the administration of justice, and indifference,” Valenzuela said.

But the biggest aggravating factor in her decision, Valenzuela explained, was the 24 months Genis recently spent behind bars at the Lompoc federal prison for willfully failing to pay $679,958 in taxes on $3.5 million of unreported earnings, a crime he blamed on a longtime gambling addiction and an alcoholic accountant who gave him bad financial advice. Genis was released in February 2019 and continues to practice law. Of the $679,958 in restitution he owes the IRS, Genis has so far paid $82,356.

Valenzuela said Genis’s eight years of tax-dodging “evinces an attitude that he is above the law and demonstrates that [his] misconduct was not aberrational.” During that period, she noted, Genis owned a Boston Whaler boat, held a membership to an exclusive country club, and owned several Santa Barbara properties, including a $1 million Hollister Ranch parcel. 

The Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar had originally pushed for Genis to be permanently stripped of his license, but Valenzuela disagreed, noting his ongoing commitment to a 12-step recovery program and the 17 character witness statements she received on Genis’s behalf from fellow attorneys, former clients, friends, and a Sheriff’s deputy. They attested to his “exceptional legal abilities,” “dedication to his clients,” and “remorse for his actions.”

Nevertheless, Valenzuela argued, a hefty two-year suspension was appropriate to “protect the public and preserve public confidence in the profession.” She also recommended that Genis be placed on three years of probation, refamiliarize himself with the California Rules of Professional Conduct, and enroll in State Bar Ethics School.

David Clare, Genis’s attorney, said he and his client plan to appeal the decision, which they deemed “too harsh.” Clare said he hopes to reduce the suspension “substantially.” The appeals process may take up to a year and a half, Clare explained, during which time Genis will remain an active member of the State Bar with no restrictions on his right to practice law.

Genis himself requested that the Independent not report on Valenzuela’s recommendation, asking instead that the paper only cover the outcome of the appeal. “But if you don’t wait,” he said, “I hope you don’t write anything that gives the wrong impression of my availability or in any way taints my reputation prematurely because I don’t want to have to take legal action, but I’m not going to be a ‘victim’ of a hasty and reckless press organ.”

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