By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
A settlement conference in the Aug. 15 lawsuit came Friday and went without issue. Sears did not respond to the Weekly's repeated telephone calls to his offices in Irvine seeking comment (although his secretary invariably made the same promise: "I'll give him the message"). Approached outside Department C32 in Orange County Superior Court Friday, Sears seemed startled. "Have you talked to my attorney?" he asked. "I cannot talk to you pending litigation."
I offered Sears my card, but he wouldn't take it. "I have your card," he said, which seemed weird. I'd never met him, and had never givenhim my card. Sears said his attorney had tried to call me twice yesterday—which would have been Thursday, Feb. 15. That was strange, too; I never got either call—and if the man did reach me, he didn't leave a message. I offered Sears my card, to make sure he had it, but he walked away without taking it.
A few minutes later, I saw him shake hands with another man with a mustache and a briefcase. He looked a lot like Sears, only larger. "Are you the attorney for Steven Sears?" I asked the man when he walked up to read the court calendar. "Yes," he said and walked into the court. I followed, telling him who I was and trying to give him my card—with him refusing. After he checked in with the bailiff, I tried again to give him my card, but he simply walked past me, to the last row of seats where his client was sitting—and tripped over the outside seat getting away from me.
After the conference, the bailiff came outside and told me they'd be bringing in another Orange County Sheriff's deputy to escort Sears and his attorney to their cars; apparently the defendant and his lawyer felt that photographer Jack Gould and I were harassing them. I saw the bailiff go inside the court—but I didn't see anyone come out. Then—still outside the courtroom door—I got a call on my cell phone from Gould, who didn't have court permission to take pictures inside the court, and was waiting to catch Sears and his attorney outside. He got them. "He was holding a newspaper over his face," Gould said in his message—and I could hear the smile in his voice, "but he was holding it on the wrong side."
Tadrous and her attorney, Reuben Nathan of Irvine, say they're taking the case to trial. "I'm not going to settle," she says. "Let's go ahead. It's more fun that way." Asked how the settlement conference went, Nathan said "The attorney is a lot like the client," meaning Sears. The case is currently scheduled for jury trial Aug. 13.
Ironically, legal problems are what brought Sears and Tadrous together in the first place. Sears is a well-known attorney, and he's not shy about digging up business. Forbes magazine and the Los Angeles Timeshave carried his advertisements—with his picture, alongside that of a luminous Tadrous—under the gripping headline "So. Calif. Attorney Reveals Legal Strategies For Protecting Assets." The spots include a drawing of the Steven Sears Professional Law Building at 18 Truman in Irvine that shows it proudly bearing his name.
But court records show Sears was being sued for breach of contract around the time he and Tadrous became romantically involved. His apparent vulnerability was partly what made him attractive to her.
"He had so many lawsuits against him. He was crying on my chest," she says. "What really attracted me was that I could help him. I really fought for him."
Later, he beat her up.
According to Tadrous' Aug. 15, 2006 civil lawsuit, Sears "brutally and physically attacked Tadrous while at their offices" in November of 2005, "after locking their office suite door and not allowing her to leave, all the while threatening Tadrous' life."
"He came over and he took my face and smashed it into his knee," Tadrous says of the attack. "[My] whole face was Technicolor for a month."
The objective? She says he wanted her house. He wanted it badly enough that he beat her up again. In January 2006, that same lawsuit alleges that Sears again beat Tadrous and threatened to kill her. She finally signed the deed to the house she owned in Irvine over to the La Rosa Trust.
Whether Sears committed fraud and coercion, and whether he intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Tadrous—as this lawsuit charges—is still before the court. But Sears was arrested for beating her the first time, in November 2005, and on Nov. 23, 2005, the state filed a criminal complaint against him, accusing the attorney of committing domestic battery with corporal injury—a felony domestic violence charge. Sears pleaded not guilty and was released. He was ordered not to "stalk, sexually abuse, harass, threaten, or commit any violence upon Nevine Carmelle" (Tadrous) and not to "go within 500 yards of Nevine Carmelle, their home, work, or children's school." He also was ordered to complete a court-ordered domestic violence counseling program, and he did so in March 2006. In May, the criminal charge against him was reduced—by the prosecution—to a misdemeanor; in the complaint, the word "FELONY" is simply x-ed out in ink, replaced by the abbreviation "MISD." But the case took a year to resolve, thanks perhaps to six defense requests for a continuance and two changes of defense attorney. Finally, on Nov. 29, 2006, with his third and final defense attorney—Kay Rackauckas, ex-wife of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas—at his side, Sears changed his original plea of not guilty to a felony to a plea of no contest to the misdemeanor charge of domestic battery with corporal injury, and was sentenced to serve 90 days under house arrest.