Thursday, November 5, 2009

Disgraced Sacramento divorce lawyer gets 1 1/2 years for fondling clients

A former Sacramento divorce layer was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison, 5 years probation, and lifetime sex offender registration yesterday for fondling his female clients under the guise of helping them medically. Gary Appelblatt, 57, plead no contest to four counts of sexual battery and a fifth count of improper touching in exchange for 9 other sexual battery counts being dropped and a maximum sentence of 18 months. Judge Gary E. Ransom sentenced the disgraced former lawyer in Sacramento Superior Court. Appelblatt tried to ask for a few days of free time to get his affairs in order, but Judge Ransom ordered him directly to prison.

Sacramento County sheriff's detectives launched their investigation of Appelblatt in February 2008 when a woman told them he made her take off her tank top and then reached into her pants during a divorce consultation. Appelblatt, she said, had a pharmacy degree on his office wall. She said he checked her breathing with a stethoscope and pounded her knees with a rubber mallet, then conducted something along the lines of a breast exam.

A month later, the detectives arrested Appelblatt. A TV report of the arrest brought out other victims who told investigators about similar experiences with Appelblatt that dated back to 2003.

Another victim stated that Appelbaum offered to reduce her legal bill by $5000 if she would have sex with him. All victims stated that the lawyer told them not to tell anyone about the assaults. 

At the time of the plea deal on August 17, Deputy District Attorney Keith Hill said "I think to me the most important thing is that lawyers are in a position of trust with their clients. I think he violated that, and I think he deserves the punishment he is going to get."

Hill went on to explain what he and the victims were hoping to accomplish with the no contest plea. "Realistically, when you take it all into consideration, it's a lot for these victims to go through again. You've always got to consider the victims. What was allowable under the law, this will be an appropriate sentence, and I hope and trust the judge will give him the maximum at the time of sentencing, and he indicated on the record this morning that that is the likely outcome."

Hill said he spoke to all of the victims last week and that they approved of the plea deal. "They were all willing to come forward and testify at trial, but they are relieved to not have to do that and to know that he's admitting guilt and that he will be punished for it."

At sentencing, Hill said that the use of the phony medical certificate and doctors' tools, as well as the fact that divorce clients have been through "terrible emotional" times just befor hiring him as a client, showed "planning and sophistication." "It was a complete legal and moral breakdown on his part. This is something he did for years, something he did over and over and over, to victim after victim after victim."
Tom Johnson, Appelblatt's defense lawyer, said his client, a practicing lawer for the past 2 decades, "stands before you utterly humiliated as a person and as an attorney." Echoing this, Appelblatt himself said that he had suffered from unaddressed mental issues and expected to be disbarred later this month. "I've lost my livelihood which I have loved for the last 20 years and (am) facing loss of my freedom."
Three of his victims also appared in court. One victim said that "You preyed upon my life when I was most weak and most vulnerable..."You robbed me of my dignity and self-worth." A second victim stated that "I only hope Mr. Appelblatt never has the opportunity to get his hands on anybody again."  All of them said that Appelblatt violated their trust, took advantage of their vulnerability, and made them suspicious of professionals.

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