Al Moriarty—the former Grover Beach financier and alleged $22 million Ponzi-schemer—was hit with further legal troubles on Jan. 29, when his attorney, Scott Whitenack, bowed out of the Moriarty case due to legal troubles of his own.
Moriarty, 80, is facing seven felony charges and has been in San Luis Obispo County Jail on $5 million bail since May 2013. Moriarty was initially represented by attorney Tom Allen, but dismissed Allen in favor of Whitenack on Oct. 16 of last year.
Moriarty met Whitenack when both men were in County Jail in September of 2013. He retained Whitenack five days after the attorney was released from jail.
According to court documents, Whitenack—whose legal melodrama was the subject of a New Times cover story on Oct. 24, 2013—made a motion for release of counsel during a pretrial hearing on Jan. 29, which was granted.
Whitenack didn’t state a reason for his withdrawal from the case, and didn’t return a call from New Times asking for comment.
According to Laura Ernde, communications director for the State Bar of California, Whitenack is no longer eligible to practice law in California, as of Feb. 3.
“Mr. Whitenack is on an interim suspension until the State Bar Court determines what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken against him,” Ernde told New Times.
Whitenack—who was initially charged with three misdemeanors and three felonies on Sept. 9, 2013—pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of petty theft and driving with a suspended license on Oct. 9. The other charges were dismissed.
Ernde said that the misdemeanor charges both involved “moral turpitude”—legally speaking, that’s conduct considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals—which triggered the suspension.
According to the California State Bar’s interim suspension order, Whitenack argued that his conviction was unrelated to the practice of law, but the presiding judge determined that he failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that contention.
Meanwhile, at a follow-up hearing on Feb. 3, the SLO County Superior Court tried to find Moriarty a new attorney.
Local attorney William McLennan was called to the Feb. 3 hearing in order to gauge his interest. That hearing was ultimately continued to Feb. 10 for further deliberation.
On Feb. 5, McLennan told New Times that he isn’t able to take Moriarty’s case right now.
“Tom Allen is a wonderful lawyer, and I thought it was strange when he was taken off the case,” McLennan said. “I have no idea what Moriarty is thinking. I think the court ultimately just wants to have a good defense attorney on the case.”
According to Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran, the court is still in the process of securing a new attorney for Moriarty.