Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Sting - Part 1

Interview With A Rogue*

I met the rogue after my newest client (in his own words) "confessed."

My client - let's call him Bo - sheepishly related to me that he had paid a "paralegal" thousands of dollars to file a notice of appeal. Bo's court case is one that could be considered complex (at least by a layman's standard) with damages nearing $1 million. Bo had retained well-known counsel until it became apparent that there was a conflict between counsel. He retained a second attorney who was subsequently suspended from the practice of law. Bo realized this when his attorney failed to appear at a hearing on summary judgment. Bo was sanctioned $2,000 by the judge for the attorney's failure to appear. Bo, now completely disgusted with the entire legal profession, and believing that the lawyers were conspiring to take him down, decided that he was best suited to be his own lawyer.

Bo then sought out and hired the rogue to help him with the paperwork. He brought his many boxes of documents to the rogue's office and left thinking that he finally had found somebody who cared about his case. I asked what else the preparer was paid to do and my client said he paid to get the notice filed and to order the record. I asked Bo if he had ever been presented with a contract and Bo replied that he did not remember signing a contract. I then asked why Bo had called me. Bo said that he had received three notices of default from the court and tried to call the guy to discuss why he was being defaulted and he wanted to know what that meant, but the guy failed to phone back. Finally, Bo talked to his "paralegal," several days later, telling the rogue that he had called the court to inquire why he was receiving the notices. The rogue began yelling and screaming, cursing at Bo and telling him that he was handling the file and that Bo had no business calling the clerk. It was at that point that Bo decided that he wanted to get his file from the preparer and turn it over to me because he felt uncomfortable with the guy's behavior, the default notices from the court, and with particularly, the rogue's lack of communication.

It troubled me that Bo had no concept of the filings or occurences during the course of his relationship with the unregistered document preparer. Bo advised me that the preparer was to have certain documents filed by specific dates and that he didn't know if the documents had been filed, but that the deadline was in a few days. I asked Bo if he had signed any documents and he said the preparer had him sign some blank papers, while explaining to him that the information would be typed in later. Bo then said he had phoned the clerk and had learned that the documents had been filed and in a timely manner. I began to share Bo's discomfort.

I sat Bo down and we discussed the differences between attorneys, LDAs and paralegals and the pitfalls which could occur by handling one's own legal matters. Then we talked about the darker side of our profession - the rogues. I explained that other people might not be as lucky as Bo and that if the rogue was handling people's legal matters he could cause severe harm. I explained that document preparers do not have the knowledge required to practice law and that in fact, Bo's rogue was blatently breaking the laws as he was apparently practicing law without proper credentials or authority. I urged Bo to file a complaint against the rogue. Bo was hesitant as he was already overwhelmed with his civil suit process and was relunctant, as he said, to pursue negative energy. I did not want to force Bo into anything he did not wish to do, so I let him take some time to think about his situation and about others who might have crossed this rogue's path.

A week later, I traveled to meet with Bo in his home town and brought in Suzanne Ervine. The three of us took a quick trip to the local courthouse to view Bo's file. We copied portions of Bo's file and upon review, Bo noted that the rogue had forged his and his wife's signatures on several of the documents that had been filed with the court. Bo became extremely upset at this discovery. We resumed our discussion concerning rogues and the harm one could suffer when dealing with non-attorneys who lack integrity and honesty, and who prey on those who unwittingly trust these people to "handle" their legal affairs. Suzanne and I again emphasized to Bo that other people could be harmed by the rogue and his fraudulent business practices. We explained that there is a process for complaints and that Bo should make a stand not only for himself but for others who may encounter the rogue in the future. Bo agreed, and related that one of the files mixed up with his own files and boxed by the rogue contained a death row appeal. Suzanne and I were flabbergasted! All I could think about, and still lose sleep over, is that this guy is probably taking money from some inmate's grandmother or family, and these people are relying on an illegal document preparer to save the inmate from a death penalty.

Now armed with the belief that Bo had been dealing with the worst type of offender, Bo agreed that he wanted to alert the authorities. We decided we would prepare a declaration and complaint and send both to the Consumer Protection Unit of the county D.A. Over lunch, Suzanne and I decided we would visit the rogue and see for ourselves what he was up to and how he played his game.

We called the office and made an appointment for later that same day. We arrived at an executive office building and noted the shabby interior and general lack of cleanliness. The place was stuffy with a bad odor permerating through the entire space. We entered the rogue's office to find the outer room small, dark and cramped. In the back was the door to the rogue's office and we entered it not knowing what we would find. We were pleasantly surprised to note that it was bright and cheerful, though lacking in appropriate office decor. The rogue held reign over a large beveled glass desk perched on two stone edifaces, much like a vulture awaiting prey, a large dog at his feet - thus the odor.

Suzanne and I had cooked up a distressed divorcee story, complete with a wandering spendthrift husband and missing assets. I was the divorcee, Suzanne, the supportive, but pushy, sister-in-law. The rogue, in his element, began to provide us with legal advice from the very beginning. He said he was a licensed attorney, but that he was licensed in a different state. He also said he had been doing this work for 14 years. He explained what forms he would file and how an OSC could provide temporary support and how I should be able to get at least $10,000 a month in support after I hired an attorney to represent me at a hearing. He went on to advise me that I would get support for my entire life unless my husband died or I remarried. In that regard, said the rogue, I should consider negotiating a lump sum settlement. He also explained that I would be eligible for 1/3 of my husband's business and that I should negotiate that amount to be paid in a lump sum should my husband decide to quit working. Astounded by his freely dispensed "legal acumen," we asked more legal questions - all of which were thoroughly answered by the rogue.

The rogue explained to us that he would do the initial paperwork and then after that paperwork was filed he would provide me with a referral to one of the attorneys in town who would do the rest, but for a much higher hourly price. The rogue's rate would be $825. When I said I wasn't working, he said he would be able to get my fees waived and then increased his flat fee to $925 to add the fee waiver application. Suzanne again asked him about the attorney and he said if I needed an attorney, he would refer me to an attorney "after the papers were filed." He urged that we quickly pay him so he could get the docs on file as "time is of essence." He then threw together an invoice. I asked if the document was a contract and he said no, it was a statement, no contract was necessary. I asked if the $925 would take care of my entire divorce and he said no, that it was payment for the initial filing only.

Finally, in an absolute abuse of decency and common courtesy, the rogue scolded me for sounding "whiny." He said - and I quote, "I only prepare the documents. I do not listen to whiners, do you want some cheese with that?" He said that I had friends that I could whine to, and that when I returned to sign the documents he would only be able to spend 10 minutes with me. He then grabbed a pen and some paper and began asking me my name, address, and other personal information. I asked him if he wanted a list of property or my husband's information and he said he didn't need to get that information. He then noted that I lived in a different county and said that if I filed in his county I would receive more "alimony" because his county had a higher standard. He offered to let me use his address as my address on the forms.

Suzanne and I suffered through the remaining minutes making small talk with the rogue and listening to him regale us with tales of vacations to far away lands and recent high end purchases. We escaped his office, presumably to find an ATM and return with cash. We did not speak one word to each other until we were in the car and driving out of the parking lot. To say we were shocked would be a definite understatement. We were absolutely floored by his audicity. We rushed to the nearest coffee house and wrote down our experience item by item so we could craft our very own declarations. This guy had to be pretty darn dirty and we were going to do what we could to keep others from being harmed. Now that we had a business name, address and a business card; and now that we had witnessed him with his grand performance of the unauthorized practice of law, we believed we would be able to get the DA to pursue this guy.

We wanted to dig a little deeper first. Little did we know what our further research would uncover . . .

Click Here for Name That ... Paralegal? - Part II
Click Here for Will the Defendant Please Rise - Part III
Click Here for Another Victim's Story - Part IV

Watch Scribe for regular updates on ALDAP's continuing investigation
The Rogue

* This is a true story. Content and identifiers have been changed to maintain confidentiality of the innocent.

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