Friday, April 17, 2009
State Bar Assumes Jurisdiction Over L.A. Document Preparation Service
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The State Bar of California said yesterday it has obtained jurisdiction over a downtown document preparing service which it accused of having engaged in the illegal practice of law.
The office operated by Paul Leonardo Hernandez, located at 312 East First Street in downtown Los Angeles, advertised on flyers printed in both English and Spanish which were distributed to people on the sidewalk near the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.
The flyers each advertised different business names, including Centro Familiar and Coalition of Families for Justice, and billed itself as having “experts” and “modifications (specialists)” which could offer “help in the law” and “assistence [sic] in all types of family issues.”
Prosecutors in the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel alleged that such statements made in advertising flyers strongly suggested legal expertise, and that clients who came to the office were offered legal advice.
State Bar prosecutor Brooke A. Schafer said the State Bar was alerted to Hernandez’s activities when a State Bar employee was handed a flyer, and also by a consumer complaint.
“As of yesterday…his people were gone,” Schafer said. But the MetNews obtained fliers from two women near the courthouse, whom Hernandez later acknowledged worked for him.
One of the women told a reporter that Hernandez was an attorney and offered a free consultation. Taking a cell phone from her pocket, she offered to call and set up an appointment.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant issued an order Wednesday taking jurisdiction over the document preparation service pursuant to California Business and Professions Code Sec. 6126.3.
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.
Hernandez and his employees were also ordered to cease and desist from practicing law or holding themselves out as being entitled to provide legal services, the State Bar said.
Schafer explained that Hernandez’s office is still open for business and can continue to operate as long as Hernandez and his employees stay within the bounds of Hernandez’s authority as a “legal document assistant.”
Such persons, sometimes referred to as LDAs, are permitted by Business and Professions Code Secs. 6400 through 6415 to prepare legal forms by filling out information given to them by customers. They must be registered with the county and bonded, and cannot call themselves attorneys or paralegals or engage in the practice of law as defined by the State Bar Act.
Prior to the 1999 enactment of the code sections, such persons were often called “independent paralegals,” but the law now limits the use of the paralegal designation to those who work directly under the supervision of an attorney.
Schafer said that the State Bar took possession of Hernandez’s client files and was in the process of inventorying them. It will then return the files to the clients who wish to have their files back, Schafer said.
Although the unlicensed practice of law may be charged as a criminal misdemeanor, Schafer said he was unaware of any criminal charges filed against Hernandez.
Hernandez told the MetNews that the State Bar and Schafer have “a personal vendetta” against him.
Waving flyers he said he had collected from other businesses that displayed similar language to his, he said “don’t come in here like Gestapo when you got 10 other people doing it.”
Defending his own flyers, Hernandez said “in my field of social work, I am an expert,” and maintained that he is also an expert in document preparation. He also claimed that he changed his flyers.
Hernandez, who said he has a master’s degree in social work from UCLA, also denied giving any clients legal advice, adding:
“A lot of attorneys are jealous of me because I get a lot more business than they do.”
Hernandez said he was going to file a complaint against the State Bar alleging violation of his equal protection and due process rights because “I’m being singled out,” and also seek a “gag order” to prevent dissemination of negative publicity about his business.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company