Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Ex-Lawyer Faces Sentencing for Unauthorized Practice
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A former attorney who now bills himself as a legal consultant faces sentencing Friday in Orange Superior Court on 25 felony counts of practicing without a license.
Ronald Lais, 63, was convicted on 25 of what were originally 29 counts last July. Judge William R. Froeberg heard the case without a jury and will preside over the sentencing.
Froberg rejected Lais’ contention that his involvement in child custody and other family law matters does not constitute the practice of law, since he was merely assisting and advising other lawyers.
The verdict “was not a close call,” the judge said in announcing the verdict, finding that Lais continued to practice law while he was out of custody and awaiting trial and that he took “the lion’s share” of fees earned by the attorneys he was allegedly assisting.
Lais practiced law in Orange County for a number of years, but resigned from the State Bar with charges pending in 2001. A Western State University law graduate admitted in 1976, Lais received a 90-day suspension in 1999 and a two-year suspension in 2000.
The suspensions were for ethical violations involving multiple clients, including failing to return unearned fees, failing to report sanctions, and attempting to mislead sheriff’s deputies who were trying to enforce an order granting custody to the ex-spouse of Lais’ client by presenting them with a superseded former order granting custody to the client.
The State Bar reported that at the time of his resignation, Lais faced 43 disciplinary counts in eight separate cases. “For the most part, the allegations charge failure to perform legal services competently or refund unearned fees and numerous instances of moral turpitude,” the State Bar reported on its Web site.
Lais told the MetNews yesterday that he has not practiced law since resigning, but is “an international child custody and divorce expert and consultant” who has worked in 40 countries and “in almost every state” in the United States. “I’ve never had any problems anywhere except Orange County, California,” he said.
The only jurisdiction in which he can now practice law, he said, is India. While non-citizens of that country normally cannot get licenses, Lais said, he was able to do so in 1999 through the aid of a politically connected individual whom he had assisted in a custody matter.
His conviction, Lais said, is the result of “a general disagreement about what I can do and what I can’t do” as a consultant/expert. He declined to predict what might happen on Friday, but said he was hopeful the judge, whom he praised as a fair-minded individual, would be willing to consider more than the “snippet” of evidence that was presented at the trial.
Lais also hinted at an appellate strategy, calling the unauthorized practice statute “vague and ambiguous,” and adding that it is unfair that “if a layperson does the same thing, it’s a misdemeanor, and if a resigned lawyer does it, it’s a felony.”
The ex-lawyer added that he was offered an opportunity to resolve the case with a misdemeanor plea if he would pay restitution and close down his business, which he conducts under the name Child Custody Legal Network. He turned it down as “a matter of principle,” he said, because it “would have prevented him from working at what I do best.”
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company