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Golden State Law Group



Complaint Rating:  100 % with 6 votes
100% 6
Contact information:
591 Camino De La Reina, Suite 100
San Diego, California
United States
Phone: 619-234-3333

On March 24, San Diegan Laura Perry received a letter from Kerry Steigerwalt’s Pacific Law Center, once San Diego’s best known, most notorious, and most aggressively advertised law firm. Perry, 73, had paid $2000 to the firm to handle a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for her. She had received no service — one of thousands who allegedly paid money up front but got little or no legal help.

The Steigerwalt law firm, which went out of business last year, offered her a refund amount of $252, to be paid in installments. “The agreed amount will be paid, but [the firm] is financially unable to pay it ‘today, ’” lamented the letter, which included a check for $42 signed by Steigerwalt. Perry’s attorney Gary Sehnert, who successfully handled her bankruptcy after Steigerwalt’s lawyers failed to act, advised her not to cash the check. “Once you do that, then they can argue that you agreed to the settlement, ” says Sehnert, who did not charge her for any of his work.

On April 18, Perry got a second letter, fretting that the law firm’s “financial condition has worsened.” She would not get the promised April check. She also got a solicitation phone call from one Joe Rivera, representing the law firm, who wanted her to take a lowball settlement of $105. “I said that is a rip-off, ” says Perry. “Every time I think of [this] it makes my blood pressure rise.” Rivera would not reply to my questions.

Pacific Law Center was founded by Larry Majors, a nonlawyer convicted felon who vamoosed from Texas after a judge called a law firm he operated “a borderline criminal enterprise, ” according to a 2009 San Diego lawsuit, since dismissed. After getting into trouble running several law firms, Majors set up Pacific Law Center in 1993 with his son Austin Majors, also a nonlawyer, as executive director, according to the lawsuit. Steigerwalt, who had been with the public defender’s office for 6 years and in private practice for 18 years, took over the firm in 2008 and attached his name to the front. The firm specialized in drunk driving, personal injury, defective product, loan modification, and bankruptcy cases. Taking over the Pacific Law Center “was the worst decision of my life, ” says Steigerwalt, who once again has his own firm. “It cost me millions.”

That April 18 letter to Laura Perry stated, “Vendors and creditors of [the defunct legal institution] claim the firm owes them more than $3 million.”

The sum could be larger than that. Steigerwalt hired the Chicago law office of J. Kevin Benjamin, who set up a Mission Valley office. Steigerwalt pays Benjamin $250 to take over each client who has not been provided service. Benjamin explains to the people that he is not replacing the shuttered law firm. He will take the case himself for a very low fee of, say, $395 for a Chapter 7.

Benjamin says he saw the closed law firm’s records: there were more than 6000 people who had paid some money and not received their service — a number that Steigerwalt, although conceding the firm is insolvent, says is too high. “Some had paid in full, some had not, ” Benjamin says. Depending on the average amount shelled out, the money owed to nonserviced clients could exceed $3 million, he says. And that doesn’t include vendors and other creditors.

San Diego attorney Scott Harris feels sorry for “all the people that got screwed, that paid $1500 to $3000 and never got service. Lawyers at [the law firm] had retainer agreements that permitted them to get out of the liability responsibility on the cases they were handling.”

In his frequent trips to San Diego, Benjamin and an assistant handle “70 to 100 people a week who had paid and not gotten services, ” he says, asserting that he is losing money on the arrangement. Initially, “people were calling every five minutes. I had to get a separate receptionist and a different line. Some were saying I was a crook. I said, ‘I don’t have your money.’” Clients thought that the up-front fees paid to Kerry Steigerwalt’s Pacific Law Center were paid to Benjamin, and that wasn’t so. He must stress to each cuckolded client that he is not taking over the Steigerwalt firm or the clients’ files. He has to begin every case anew. “This has been going on for a year, and I am debating if I will do it anymore.”

Benjamin says that investigators from the U.S. trustee’s office in San Diego, which oversees bankruptcy cases, have been looking into Steigerwalt customers who did not get served. The probers went over Benjamin’s files and interviewed one of his assistants. “They have their own investigation going of Kerry Steigerwalt, ” Benjamin says. “They were asking us about Kerry and about our own operations.” Also, Benjamin says he talked briefly with an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later checked with Benjamin’s lawyer. But the subject of those inquiries was loan modifications, in which Benjamin is not involved. Steigerwalt’s firm got into the controversial loan modification business.

Steigerwalt says he is not aware of any Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. As is traditional, the agency will not confirm or deny the existence of a probe. The U.S. trustee’s office, while not confirming a formal investigation, did reveal that it has been actively involved, stating: “The U.S. Trustee’s office responded to inquiries from individuals who had concerns about their legal representation in bankruptcy cases after the closure of Kerry Steigerwalt’s Pacific Law Center.”

“Benjamin is making a grand effort to do what is right, ” says Sehnert. However, “It would be really nice to have an accounting of that $3 million.” He notes that the check that Laura Perry received was from “Kerry Steigerwalt’s Pacific Law Center Client Trust Account.” Money in client trust accounts belongs to clients, not to the lawyers, who should follow strict accounting procedures, he says. However, a former member of the firm says that in this instance the money paid up front did not have to go into client trust accounts.

Meanwhile, a firm named Golden State Law Group is now advertising heavily, à la Steigerwalt’s deceased enterprise. Golden State’s marketing director is Austin Majors, former executive director of Pacific Law Center. After Steigerwalt’s firm closed, Golden State was launched by two former members of that concern, Don Bokovoy, who is going into semiretirement, and David Weil. On its website, Golden State says it is responding to “unanswered complaints with Kerry Steigerwalt’s Pacific Law Center. Many of Mr. Steigerwalt’s clients have called Golden State Law Group seeking help with their bankruptcy case after complaining to Mr. Steigerwalt that they paid him a retainer to file their bankruptcies and he has, in many cases, failed to do so.” Those who unsuccessfully went to Benjamin’s Chicago law firm “felt cheated and scammed, ” says the website.

Steigerwalt says he is disappointed by the criticism, given Weil’s and Bokovoy’s “involvement in the bankruptcy department at [Kerry Steigerwalt’s Pacific Law Center].”

Benjamin is more succinct: Golden State “can go fk themselves, ” he says.


The Return of Pacific Law Center

If you have heard of San Diego’s infamous Pacific Law Center, you may have heard the name Larry Majors associated with it. After all, it was Majors who brought Philips and Associates to Phoenix, and eventually Pacific Law Center to San Diego in 2003. For those unfamiliar with the story, here is a brief history.

Way back in 1990, Larry Austin Majors, Sr. was arrested on 16 felony counts for collecting sales taxes illegally charged to Indians while he was the manager of a Payson, Arizona car dealership. Majors, was pocketing the money and, despite the best efforts of his attorney, Duane Varbel, was ultimately sentenced to a year in prison and 7 years probation in 1991 for his actions.

As if the arrest itself was not dramatic enough, Majors was taken into custody while attending a baseball game in which his son, Austin Majors, was playing.

Not having learned much about making an honest living during his stint in the penitentiary, Larry joined his brother, Wayne, in the fraternity of convicted felons who graduate to running law firms. Wayne Majors, who had served time in federal prison in the late 1980s for mail fraud, was running the Dallas/Ft. Worth law firm Paternostro and Associates, when his brother Larry arrived. Wayne, as the executive director and office manager, hired Larry and made him an employee.

In April of 1992, Larry left Dallas for San Antonio where he partnered with Attorney Marvin Davis in the law firm Davis and Associates. Majors was the money and the brains behind the operation. He designed and implemented the advertising campaign, and within several months, Davis and Associates had made a huge dent in the bankruptcy market in San Antonio. For his part, Majors paid himself a salary of $8000 per month.

Even in Texas, Majors seemingly made too big a splash, too fast. Less than a year after opening Davis and Associates, Majors left abruptly in October after a bankruptcy judge in San Antonio put an end to the operation, finding on the record that Majors had started the firm, funded it, and controlled its operations. He also forbade Larry Majors from ever engaging in the unauthorized practice of law again. In other words, Larry Majors was never to have anything to do with the operation of a law firm ever again.

Majors, however, was not about to ride off quietly into the sunset. In fact, in May of 1992, a month after he opened Davis and Associates, Majors partnered with his former criminal attorney, Duane Varbel, in the Phoenix bankruptcy firm, Varbel and Associates.

Shortly thereafter, Larry Majors made his first splash in the San Diego market when he opened Gordon and Associates in San Diego. True to form, the firm quickly became the highest volume bankruptcy law firm in the county, but was gone roughly a year later. Gordon was eventually disbarred for his role in the opertation.

Not one to mess with a streak, Majors went on to fund Phillips and Associates in Phoenix with his future son-in-law, Jeffrey Phillips. Philips and Associates, of course, eventually opened shop in San Diego under the name Pacific Law Center.

Larry’s son, Austin Majors, was the Director of Marketing at PLC. Larry Majors, who was once described as a cross between Wayne Newton and John Gotti, would appear occasionally at Pacific Law Center functions and was a regular at the strip club, Pure Platinum, where he would throw extravagant “all expenses paid” firm happy hours for the sales team after a good month.

Keeping up the family tradition of operating law firms illegally, Austin continued in his role at PLC even after the firm was sold to Kerry Steigerwalt in 2008. Steigerwalt and Larry Majors had a strategy meeting at a San Diego hotel around the time the deal went through. Apparently Larry wanted to keep a family connection, so Austin stayed on until early 2009.

Fast forward to the present day. Steigerwalt announced several months ago that Pacific Law Center would be closing its doors and may well be on his way to joining Varbel, Gordon, and Davis in facing suspension or disbarment after having gotten involved with Larry Majors.

The thing about temptation, though, is there always someone willing to succumb to it. Two former PLC bankruptcy attorneys, Don Bokovoy and David Weil, recently opened Golden State Law Group (http://www.goldenstatelawgroup.com/). A former colleague of Bokovoy and Weil confirmed that, you guessed it, Larry Majors is indeed the financial backer behind Golden State Law Group, and Austin Majors, once again, is handling the marketing for the firm.

A recent post on the Facebook Page for Golden State Law Group showed a comment from a follower which read “Glad to see you are back in the game guys . . . “ Right below that is a reply from Austin Majors, which reads “Thanks!”

The cast of characters makes anything in a John Grisham novel appear pedestrian. Bokovoy was heavily involved in the long defunct law firm of Gordon and Associates. The disgraced attorney Gordon eked out a living for years doing side work for PLC’s bankruptcy department. Bokovoy was recently in the news after he was tracked down at bankruptcy court by a disgruntled client and confronted on camera about questionable business practices.

If history has anything to say about it, we will probably start to see ads for Golden State Law Group all over television, billboards, and bus stops throughout San Diego County, and they will likely grab a substantial share of the bankruptcy market in fairly short order. Unfortunately, history also teaches us that consumers in San Diego should tread with great caution if they are considering hiring Golden State Law Group to handle their bankruptcy case.

Golden State Law Group

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