Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Los Angeles Attorney Pleads No Contest To Attempting To Dissuade A Witness To Testify -- Where Is The Line In Using Civil Lawsuits In Criminal Cases?

Where is the line in obtaining a civil settlement to have a criminal case dismissed? It is not uncommon for attorneys, including myself, to use the fact of a civil lawsuit or a settlement in that lawsuit to help persuade a prosecutor that the case is more "civil" than criminal and that there is good cause for dismissing the criminal case.

When these matters are handled, however, there is a line.  In one case here in Los Angeles County an attorney lost his State Bar license and obtained a criminal conviction in going too far in seeking to have a witness not testify in a criminal case in the hope of getting the criminal case dismissed.

On January 6, 2010, a Los Angeles attorney Sean Erenstoft (age 42) was indicted on three felony counts including bribing a witness and attempting to dissuade a witness.  The case was handled by the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

The indictment alleged that Mr. Erenstoft was representing a client in a criminal stalking case.  As part of his tactics, it was further alleged that Mr. Erenstoft filed a civil case against the victim to dissuade her from testifying against Mr. Erenstoft's client (the defendant in the stalking case) at his preliminary hearing.  It was also alleged that Mr Erenstoft approached the victim and offered to drop the civil case in exchange for favorable testimony at his client's sentencing.

On June 14, 2010, Mr. Erenstoft pleaded no contest to one felony count of attempting to dissuade a witness. Sentencing is scheduled on September 15 before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley. As part of the plea agreement, the State Bar of California will immediately disbar Mr. Erenstoft.

Mr. Erenstoft is expected to be sentenced to three years of formal probation and will be ordered to do 100 hours of community service. There will be no jail time. Mr. Erenstoft additionally will be expected to pay $9,074.30 in restitution to the victim.

With respect to his State Bar license, Mr. Erenstoft will be disbarred but can apply for reinstatement in five years. This is an unfortunate result and is an example of what "hardball" tactics can lead to in a case. I have had clients and victims reach civil settlements but it is important to never make part of any agreement a request that a victim not testify or not comply with any court order or subpoena. There can be confidentiality agreements but those clauses do not usually preclude testifying pursuant to a court order or subpoena.

Clients can get afraid and worried about leaving their fate to the jury system.  I recall when the Anthony Pellicano case was in the news and it was alleged that there was taping of conversations between opposing counsel and their clients -- I had more than one client who wished they could hire someone to tap phones and obtain an advantage in the lawsuit or case. At that point, I have to remind the clients not to make matters worse and that apart from being illegal, it is not worth the risk. I will tell the client that this is not a matter of not being "aggressive enough" but about being smart. Evidence of asking witnesses not to testify can be used to show guilt, among other things.

Posted by Tracy Green, Esq.  Any additional questions or comments should be directed to  Tracy Green is a principal at Green and Associates. The firm focuses its practice on the representation of licensed professionals, including attorneys and health care professionals.

Tracy Green is a  dedicated Los Angeles professional license defense attorneys and is committed to excellence.  You can email her at or call her at 213-233-2261.  Their website is:


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