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SoCal's Star Attorney Disbarred and Criminally Charged

Handcuffs over a pile of cash
By Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. on June 13, 2023

SoCal, where stars fall as soon as they rise. And we're not just talking about movie stars. A star attorney in Southern California just fell from grace after she was arrested Monday in Washington State for grand theft.

Not long ago, Kelly Duford Williams was a star in the legal community. In 2021, San Diego Magazine named her a "Woman of the Year Rising Star." But since then, she's been stealing money from her clients and making false 911 calls and police reports.

Now, the attorney faces her own legal troubles, after police nabbed her recently in the Pacific Northwest. While her bail has been set at $25,000 in Snohomish, the California State Bar Association has already revoked her license to practice law in "The Golden State."

Who Is Kelly Duford Williams?

Born Kelly Williams in Ireland, she moved to the United States with her family when she was three. She claims she had always dreamed of becoming a litigator. Eventually, Williams attended University of San Diego and earned her Juris Doctor from California Western School of Law. Afterwards, she clerked for the San Diego County District Attorney, and from there, became a Deputy District Attorney in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 2013, she married another attorney, Craig DuFord, with whom she had three children. The two even started a law firm together in San Diego. But Williams and DuFord dealt with quite a few marital troubles. At one point, for example, her ex-husband obtained a restraining order against her for domestic violence. In short, the relationship ended in a messy divorce.

A Feminist Celebrity Lawyer?

After the divorce, Williams decided to start her own business. She established Slate Law Group, a law firm focused on business development and employment law-related issues. The law office sprawled across a 10,000-square foot space in a luxurious office building in San Diego.

Williams soon became somewhat of a celebrity. She regularly appeared on local TV news, and the San Diego Business Journal named her a "40 Next Top Business Leaders under 40" for her legal work at Slate. Another magazine, Entreprenista, featured an interview with the attorney in which she quoted lyrics by Beyoncé to describe her work ethic. Quoting the pop star's "Flawless," Williams referred to herself as a "hustler." In her stated mission to promote "social, political and economic equality of the sexes," she recommended that other women listen to Beyonce's work.

The Fall of a Star

But Williams' good press didn't last long. In March, the State Bar of California commenced disciplinary proceedings against her, on various claims related to both her personal and professional life.

Discord In Personal Life

In April 2021, Williams filed two false police reports over claims of a child's welfare. In those two phone calls to 9-1-1, she expressed concern that an ex-boyfriend was abusing his children. During the calls, which occured in Utah, she also impersonated the child's aunt as well as a deputy district attorney.

In October 2022, her ex-husband filed for custody of their children. In the filing, he cited the order of protection he had taken out against her on claims of harassment and intimidation. He had also cited the disbarment proceedings and criminal proceedings against her—we'll tackle those next.

Not Such a Professional Role Model

Professionally, Williams seems to have engaged in some questionable practices at her law firm, Slate. There are many, and we'll start with the smaller ones.

Former employees have also said that she verbally abused them. One former paralegal of hers, Bryan Morgan, has said she lived a "Mean Girls life." Some claim that she would frantically shift between singing pop songs in the office and making social media posts in which she would demand her workers to fudge their hours in order to increase profits.

Perhaps her employees should have seen warning signs of an ethically questionable employer. Soon enough, the State Bar got involved. Among the allegations from the Bar was that Williams had permitted an attorney not licensed in California to practice law as an employee of her firm. This was just the tip of the iceberg for the Bar's dealings with Williams, though.

In December 2021, the young entrepreneur received a settlement check from State Farm Insurance on behalf of a former client, who had filed a civil lawsuit over mold exposure. But when she got the check, Williams failed to deposit it into the account trust account where it was supposed to go. In doing so, she violated various rules in California on attorneys' professional conduct.

The notice from the Clerk's Office claims that Williams deposited the $109,000 into an account registered to Slate Law, and also failed to keep adequate records on the cash from the settlement. In her mismanagement of the funds, she misappropriated her client's settlement money. According to court records, she also repeatedly lied about her handling of the cash.

Needless to say, the State Bar was not pleased with any of this, and soon commenced proceedings disbarment proceedings. The former attorney was officially disbarred late last month.

If you thought any of that was dicey, it's small potatoes compared to her criminal charges. In March, the San Diego District Attorney charged Williams with nine counts of felony theft and one count of forging checks, and issued a warrant for her arrest. Over the past few years, she had apparently stolen an additional $400,000 from other former clients. One of the victims and her former client, Fernando Rodriguez, referred to her as a "evil conniver" and a "little scammer." Three pending lawsuits, filed in San Diego, claim that she owes thousands and thousands of dollars in backpay.

Guess she really was a "hustler."

Williams Will Stop at Nothing

If you thought that this mountain of legal trouble would put Williams in her place, you'd be wrong.

Last week, she was arrested in Washington after evading authorities for roughly three months. She claimed she had been travelling to promote concerts—a strange story coming from a former employment law attorney. It appears she has turned into an event organizer, recognizing that she needs a career change after losing her license to practice law. According to police reports and The Daily Beast, she was also pretending to be pregnant.

As Williams prepares for the commencement of the criminal proceedings against her in San Diego, it's looking more and more like she was never an upstanding businesswoman, but instead a white-collar criminal.

Maybe she can still promote concerts from behind bars.

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