California attorney facing suspension for fake photos with celebs

Svitlana Sangary allegedly posted photoshopped pictures of herself with politicians and celebrities on her website.

Story highlights

  • Svitlana Sangary faked photos of herself with celebs and politician, state bar court says
  • A six-month suspension recommendation must be OK'd by state supreme court
  • "I will tell you much more later," Sangary tells CNN
  • Sangary wrote "16-page soliloquy" in response to charges, court says
A California lawyer is facing license suspension for alleged deceptive advertising by Photoshopping herself into cozy pictures with politicians and celebrities on her official website.
The California State Bar Court is recommending Svitlana Sangary be suspended from practicing law for six months, after an investigation showed her website featured fake publicity photos of her next to President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Kim Kardashian, Ellen DeGeneres and others.
The California Bar Association says Sangary's suspension does not go into effect until approved by the California Supreme Court and is recommending two-and-a-half years of probation after the six-month suspension.
On Friday, CNN contacted Sangary for comment, and she said she would call back shortly. "I will tell you much more later," she said. Later in the day, she declined additional immediate comment.
Photos from Sangary's website
Photos from Sangary's website
She ultimately responded in a lengthy email Monday that defended her position, but did not flatly deny doctoring the photos.
Misleading the public
Sangary faked many or all of the photos by taking original celebrity pictures and then overlaying her own image, the state bar court found.
The ruling said because the "photographs were part of an advertisement and solicitation for future work ... they were false, deceptive, and intended to confuse, deceive and mislead the public."
But high-profile legal analyst and celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos does not think an attorney's photoshop frenzy is troublesome or worth suspension.
"If that kind of puffery is actionable by the state bar, you are going to put the entire membership of state bar out of business," Geragos told CNN. "There is no greater group of self-promoters than lawyers, and puffery goes with the territory."
Court documents say Sangary answered her notice of disciplinary charges with a "16-page soliloquy with little to no rational connection to the charges."
A "sweet sixteen" response
As an example, court papers cited a portion of Sangary's response, which she wrote referring to herself in the third person: "There is a popular expression, 'sweet sixteen'. The foregoing 16 pages can be characterized as bitter-sweet sixteen, in Sangary's view. It goes without saying as to why they are bitter. Can one envision the acts in the civil arena, more unseemly than the ones described above?
"Svitlana Sangary came to this country in her twenties, with nothing, and married another immigrant, who also had nothing ... Sangary's American dream has come true, as she has been able to achieve a point wherein now, in her thirties, Sangary is a prominent donor and philanthropist, supporting important social causes, who had recently received the email from President Obama, with the subject line 'I need your help today', asking Svitlana Sangary for an additional donation."
Sangary made similar statements in her Monday response to CNN saying the pictures "represent the doors that an underdog, an immigrant woman can walk through, and the heights the first generation American can climb."
"I put blood, sweat and tears to finally reach a point in my life when I became a major donor and devoted supporter of numerous charitable and political causes, and got invited to the events where I was blessed with the opportunity to socialize and have my pictures taken with the talented and successful people, who have been inspiring me for my whole life, whom I admire and look up to."
Sangary added: "Please take a look at all my pictures, consult any computer guru if you like, and decide for yourself whether these pictures are real, authentic or Photoshopped."
Culpable of four counts
Stan Goldman, a Loyola Law School of Los Angeles professor with a background in legal ethics, argues lawyers' websites and photoshopping should be controlled by the state bar so that clients can make rational choices.
"You may not be misrepresenting law school, grades or experience, but this (attorney's website) is untrue," Goldman said. "It's suggesting you are more well-connected, more important, more successful and talented than you are."
State Bar Court Judge Donald F. Miles found Sangary culpable of four total counts: deceptive advertising, two counts of failing to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation, and one count of failing to promptly release a client file.
Sangary's website says she's a Pepperdine Law School graduate and her offices "concentrate on trial practice and civil litigation, specializing in all types of litigation and dispute resolution in various forums."