Friday, January 27, 2006
Two Law Offices Raided in Crackdown on Unauthorized Practice
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
State Bar investigators yesterday raided law offices in Alhambra and Garden Grove as part of a crackdown on unauthorized practice, bar officials said.
The action, representing the first use of a law that took effect Jan. 1, came after Superior Court judges in the Los Angeles and Orange superior courts found that an 81-year-old attorney had allowed a non-lawyer to operate a practice under the lawyer’s name but without his supervision.
The attorney, Arthur Cooper, could not be reached for comment; the phone number listed for him on the State Bar’s website was out of service.
The State Bar sought orders under new Business and Professions Code section 6126.3, which sponsored by Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Garden Grove. The law allows a judge, on the petition of the State Bar, to grant the bar jurisdiction over a law practice if there is probable cause to believe that the practice is being illegally operated by a non-lawyer and that a client or other interested party is likely to be harmed if the practice continues.
The State Bar alleges that Cooper, who was admitted in 1960 and was the subject of two disciplinary actions within the past 14 years, allowed a non-lawyer named Jie Yang or Jeffrey Yang to operate a personal injury practice at the Alhambra office under Cooper’s name.
The bar’s evidence includes a full-page ad for Cooper’s office, featuring a photograph of Cooper and Yang. In court documents, the bar alleged that “because Cooper has diminished mental capacity and has effectively abandoned his clients, he is incapable of devoting the time and attention to, and providing the quality of service necessary to protect the interests of his clients.”
The State Bar claims that Cooper failed to supervise the office, having no contact with its clients other than conversing with one client by telephone. Yang allegedly settled all of the cases out of court and made periodic payments to Cooper, but those payments were, a bar official said, “unrelated to any contingency or other fees received from the settlement of the personal injury matters.”
In addition to bringing a successful Sec. 6126.3 petition in Los Angeles Superior Court, the State Bar was successful in an Orange County action brought under an older law that allows it, with court approval, to take over the practice of a physically or mentally disabled lawyer whose disabilities prevent the attorney from practicing without harm to the clients.
The Orange Superior Court order allows the State Bar to assume responsibility for Cooper’s Garden Grove practice.
After the court orders were entered, the bar official said, police and bar investigators went to both offices and took the files, financial records, and computers and froze the firms’ trust and office accounts.
More than 200 client files were seized.
“The State Bar is gratified that the Los Angeles and Orange County Superior Courts granted our petitions to assume jurisdiction over these practices,” Scott Drexel, chief trial counsel for the bar, said in a statement. “The new statutory authority conferred by Business and Professions Code section 6126.3 is an important weapon in†protecting the public and combating†the unauthorized practice of law by non-attorneys.”
Callers to the offices will now be redirected to a dedicated number at the State Bar and clients will be contacted. The State Bar is also authorized by the statutes to seek extensions of time with regard to any court deadlines that might be missed as a result of yesterday’s actions.
Hearings are scheduled Feb. 7 in Orange Superior Court and Feb. 27 in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company