Friday, February 6, 2009
State Bar Shuts Down Attorney’s Westminster Office
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The State Bar announced yesterday that it has shut down the Westminster satellite office of Upland attorney Walter S. Martinez for allegedly having non-attorneys run the office and handle legal matters.
State Bar prosecutors obtained an order from Orange County Superior Court Judge Frederick Horn Monday, giving the State Bar authority to assume jurisdiction over the Law Office of Walter S. Martinez and L&M Legal Services in Westminster.
Two office administrators were also ordered to cease and desist from practicing law.
Business and Professions Code Sec. 6126.3 gives authority to a superior court—on its own motion or upon application of the State Bar—to assume jurisdiction of the “practice” of a person who is not a lawyer.
Assumption of a law practice by a superior court under Sec. 6126.3 is based upon the court finding that a person has engaged in the practice of law without being an active member of the State Bar or otherwise authorized to practice in California, and that the interest of a client or interested person or entity will be prejudiced if the court does not assume jurisdiction.
A State Bar spokesperson said the Orange County district attorney had been conducting an investigation targeting illegal patient referral and insurance overbilling schemes, and had informed the State Bar that Martinez’s Westminster office appeared to engaged in the unlawful practice of law.
“We posed as accident victims and ran a case through the office and never once met with an attorney,” the spokesperson commented.
Prosecutors from the State Bar’s Office of Trial Counsel alleged that Martinez had little or no contact with many of the clients at his Westminster office, which handled primarily personal injury claims. Instead, they said, clients’ cases were normally handled, from intake through settlement, by non-attorney Lisa Marie Tran and other office staff, none of whom are attorneys.
Representatives from the State Bar arrived at the law office on Monday with police and members of the district attorney’s office and seized “about 8 or 9 bankers boxes worth of files,” the State Bar spokesperson said.
“Our whole thing is to protect the clients by getting their files back to them so they can get new lawyers,” the spokesperson explained, adding that the State Bar will look through the files and contact clients to pick them, and that the Westminster office’s phone number and mail will be rerouted to the State Bar.
“We essentially kind of wind it up as if the attorney is going out of business,” the spokesperson said.
He added that Martinez, who has no history of discipline, was not personally part of the order, and declined to comment on whether the State Bar was investigating the attorney.
Martinez could not be reached for comment.
Tran, of Midway City, was arrested on a felony charge of conspiracy and a misdemeanor charge for the unauthorized practice of law, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. She has posted $50,000 bail and faces a maximum sentence of four years and eight months.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company