Darryl Genis, one of Santa Barbara’s most flamboyantly combative courtroom warriors on behalf of clients accused of driving drunk, lost another major legal contest this week in connection with his own ongoing criminal problems with the IRS. The California Court of Appeal soundly and roundly rejected a $10 million malpractice complaint Genis had filed against his own attorney, Martin Schainbaum, alleging Schainbaum had dropped the ball on multiple counts in defending Genis in 2015 when Genis was put on notice that his failure to pay taxes from 2009 to 2012 could land him in jail for as many as 15 years.
Based on the settlement deal worked out by Schainbaum — and signed by Genis — Genis would serve two years behind bars, pay the IRS the $675,000 in taxes he had withheld, and, in addition, pay a civil penalty of about $500,000. In his malpractice complaint, Genis charged Schainbaum had failed to make the case that Genis was a gambling addict strongly enough as a mitigating factor for his tax evasion. He also objected that Schainbaum had failed to read the fine print of the settlement’s “closing agreements,” which left Genis saddled with the civil penalties of $506,000 for tax fraud.
Based on the Court of Appeal ruling, it appears that this language escaped the notice of both Schainbaum and Genis. But the Court of Appeal ruled that Genis would have had to have demonstrated he was factually innocent of the crimes charged in order to successfully sue his attorney for legal malpractice. In this case, the panel of judges highlighted the many times Genis stated under oath that he was guilty. “I’m here because what I did wrong, not because of what somebody else did or did not do,” Genis has stated at his sentencing.
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When Genis later objected that he had agreed to the civil penalties without understanding them, he had been given the opportunity to withdraw his plea and take the case to trial. Genis declined to do so.
Famous for his feuds with judges on the Santa Barbara bench, not to mention local prosecutors and the State Bar itself, Genis managed to arouse the judicial ire of the three judges making up the appellate panel as well. In his pleadings, Genis sought to argue that there had been two separate cases brought against him, one civil and one criminal and that the civil fines should not have been imposed as a settlement for the criminal action. In their ruling, the appellate panel insisted there had been only one complaint and to say otherwise “stretches the record beyond credulity.” They also dismissed such claims as “disingenuous,” adding, “We decline to distort the record.”
Late this May, a judge with the State Bar recommended Genis be disbarred for two years because of “multiple acts of wrongdoing” that demonstrated “bad faith, substantial harm to the administration of justice, and indifference.” Initially, the recommendation had been to permanently strip Genis of his license to practice law, but that sanction was softened in light of Genis’s successful completion of a 12-step recovery program and the 17 character witnesses who testified on his “exceptional legal abilities,” not to mention his “dedication to his clients,” and “remorse for his actions.”
CORRECTION: Darryl Genis served two, not three, years behind bars.
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