By KAREN VELIE
The California State Bar suspended the law license of Pismo Beach Councilman and Coastal Commissioner Erik Howell for 60 days for professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud in a civil case in which he was the attorney.
For multiple failures in his duty to a client which led to the client losing her case, the State Bar also placed Howell on a one year probation and ordered him to attend ethics classes. In addition, the client won a $187,067 judgement against Howell.
In 2011, Linda McCormick filed a complaint against San Luis Obispo County alleging negligence and medical malpractice. In 2013, she hired Howell to represent her noting an upcoming demurrer hearing, which Howell failed to attend.
As a result, the court sustained the county’s demurrer which led to a motion for summary judgment. Howell did not file an opposition, and the court granted the county’s summary judgement motion.
Howell then failed to notify McCormick that the county filed the motion for summary judgement or that the court granted the motion.
On Oct. 23, 2013, the county filed to have McCormick pay for its costs and attorneys fees. Howell again failed to oppose the motion or show up to the hearing and his client was ordered to pay $68,716 to the county, a loss Howell did not inform her about.
McCormick repeatedly called Howell after he signed substitution of attorney papers in 2013, but he did not respond to her phone calls. The first time Howell communicated with McCormick was in June 2014 when he showed up at her debtor’s exam.
McCormick later negotiated a $10,000 settlement with the county, which she paid. Then in Aug. 2014, she sued Howell for professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and fraud and was awarded $187,067 in damages. Howell failed to report the judgement to the state bar as required.
Over the past few years, Howell has faced multiple allegations of wrongdoing.
Howell previously faced stiff criticism for accepting a campaign contribution from the domestic and business partner of Coastal Commission lobbyist Susan McCabe, and then voting in favor of a project McCabe was pushing. The FPPC launched an investigation into the matter but ruled that Howell did not violate campaign finance laws in the case because he may not have known about the relationship.
In 2016, a nonprofit named Spotlight on Coastal Corruption filed a lawsuit, alleging several coastal commissioners, including Howell, illegally hid private meetings with developers and other lobbyists from the public. By law, coastal commissioners are required to disclose ex-parte communications within seven days.
In July 2018, a San Diego County judge fined Howell $3,500 over his failure to disclose ex-parte communications as a member of the California Coastal Commission.