(CN) - A disbarred attorney jailed on charges of criminal theft and forgery faces a civil lawsuit accusing him of defrauding the Los Angeles County Metro Transportation Authority out of $2.5 million.
James Vincent Reiss of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., worked as a Metro defense attorney for 15 years, until Metro officials learned that he'd been suspended by the California State Bar pending an investigation of misconduct in unrelated cases.
Metro says it fired Reiss in January 2012, even though he tried to cover up his misconduct. Nine months later, Reiss was disbarred for committing 10 acts of misconduct between 2000 and 2010, including forging a client's signature on a settlement and keeping clients' money.
He was arrested last June on four felony counts of grand theft and seven felony counts of forgery, according to local media reports. He's in jail awaiting trial.
In a civil lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Metro says the disbarred attorney's "fraud, misappropriation, forgery and misrepresentation" cost it $2.5 million.
According to the lawsuit, Reiss submitted "numerous falsified invoices totaling at least $754,000," purportedly for costs and expert witness fees, and then kept much of the money.
In 2011, he also forged signatures on a multimillion-dollar liability settlement, the transportation authority says. Reiss allegedly told Metro that it had negotiated a $2.5 million jury award down to $1.7 million. Metro cut him two checks totaling $1.7 million - one for medical expenses and another for the plaintiff - both of which Reiss kept, according to the lawsuit.
Over a year later, the plaintiff's attorney asked where the money was and claimed the case had settled for $2.7 million, Metro says.
"In response to the demand from plaintiff's counsel for payment, someone (possibly Reiss) using the name Stephan Johnson, (Reiss' law partner), sent plaintiff's counsel a series of emails and correspondence that included fabricated [Metro] documents designed to mislead him into believing that [Metro]-caused problems were delaying delivery of the settlement proceeds," the lawsuit states. (Parentheses in original.)
Metro says it ultimately paid the full judgment of more than $2.5 million.
It accuses Reiss, Johnson and their firm of legal malpractice; intentional and negligent misrepresentation; fraud; misappropriation; forgery; breach of contract; conversion; unjust enrichment; negligent and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage; breach of fiduciary duties; unfair business practices; ostensible agency liability; and conspiracy.
Reiss & Johnson LLP did not immediately return a request for comment.
Metro is represented by Mark Weinstein and William Glazer of Veatch Carlson in Los Angeles.
Reiss represented former Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez in his two public corruption trials.
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