A personal injury lawyer in Aurora will lose his law license for two-and-a-half years after admitting that he forged his brother’s signature on more than a dozen documents.
Meanwhile, state investigators have dropped allegations that Michael Yi defrauded the unemployment system and Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic.
Yi has been licensed to practice law in Colorado since 2005. After seven years as an Aurora city prosecutor, he started Michael Yi & Associates, an injury law firm with a focus on helping Asian clients, in 2012. The firm also has a Colorado Springs office.
“We are proud of the high legal and ethical standards that have been established by our firm and the tradition of excellence that we work to maintain,” the firm’s website states.
According to the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, which investigates wrongdoing by lawyers, Yi was employing five people at the firm when the pandemic arrived in March 2020. The office initially alleged that he told them to collect unemployment benefits — and to keep working.
“From March 2020 to August 2020, knowing these employees were receiving unemployment benefits, (Yi) did not pay these employees even though they were working for him full-time,” Attorney Regulation Counsel staff alleged in an August 2022 complaint.
Yi also received a PPP loan while he wasn’t paying employees, that complaint alleged.
The document accused Yi of a dozen ethics violations, including using the notary stamp of his brother and forging his brother’s signature “on at least 14 different clients’ settlement documents.” Yi committed three crimes as a result, the complaint said.
Yi, through his attorneys, responded to the accusations in October. He admitted to the forgery claims but denied any wrongdoing related to unemployment and PPP payments.
The case moved ahead until early February, when the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel dropped eight of the 12 claims against Yi, including the fraud accusations.
“The People make this request in the interest of justice and upon consideration of discovery that (Yi) has provided to the People, including recent responses to written discovery requests and reports from (Yi)’s experts,” Assistant Regulation Counsel Justin Moore wrote then.
In response to questions from BusinessDen, Jessica Yates, a spokeswoman for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, said in an email that the fraud allegations were dropped “based on our consideration of the state of the evidence and our burden of proof.”
Two weeks later, an agreement was announced between the office and Yi that included the 30-month penalty in exchange for Yi admitting to the forgeries. That agreement notes he “has not been charged criminally” and does not admit that he broke the law.
Yi did not respond to an email or message left with his receptionist this week.
Though forgery by Colorado lawyers has resulted in disbarment in some past cases, the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel wrote in its agreement with Yi that “unique circumstances” called for “a deviation from disbarment.” It notes that Yi had not previously been disciplined and was suffering from pandemic-induced emotional issues at the time of his forgeries.
Yi’s suspension will take effect April 15. He must also pay $1,466 in fees and fines. In order to be readmitted as a lawyer in 2025, he will need to prove he has been rehabilitated.
In an unrelated matter, Yi was sued in late 2021 by Minh and Hang Pham, who hired Yi after an injury accident, then sued him after he failed to file a lawsuit before a statute of limitation expired. Yi admitted he didn’t file a lawsuit in the Phams’ case but said it was a professional decision he couldn’t be sued for. Yi and the Phams settled out of court last year.
In the disciplinary case, Yi was represented by attorneys Daniel McCune and Karin Williamson with the Denver firm Childs McCune. They did not respond to requests for comment.