Monday, July 20, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Filling Out Form on Behalf of Others Wasn’t Unauthorized Practice
Opinion Reverses Order Voiding Renewal of 1995 Judgment in 2015 Because One Creditor, a Non-Lawyer, Acted on Behalf of Himself, 16 Others; Judgment for Less Than $200,000 Now Worth $1.2 Million-Plus
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The First District Court of Appeal has reversed an order vacating the renewal of a 1995 judgment now worth more than $1 million, rejecting the trial court’s reasoning that the renewal was invalid because the man who filed the paperwork on behalf of himself and 16 other judgment creditors is not a lawyer and therefore practiced law without a license
Justice James A. Richman of Div. Two wrote the opinion, filed Thursday. The man, John V. Bisordi, “was acting in a ‘clerical’ capacity, or as a ‘scrivener,’ ” Richman said, declaring:
“That is not the unauthorized practice of law.”
Seventeen holders of unpaid promissory notes had obtained the judgment on Nov. 29, 1995, in San Mateo Superior Court against Robert and Richard Highsmith. Among the plaintiffs were Bisordi, his wife, Marilyn Bisordi, and his father, Mario Bisordi.
At that point, the total judgment was for $195,678.88.
Under Code of Civil Procedure §683.020, a judgment, to remain enforceable, must be renewed every 10 years. In 2005, a lawyer for the judgment creditors filed a simple Judicial Council form for renewal, with attachments, adding accrued interest in the amount of $200,570.67, plus the $36.30 spent on the filing fee.
The lawyer died, and in 2015, John Bisordi filed a renewal form, attaching the same exhibits, but updating the amount of interest to $394,114.42 and $30, representing the filing fee.
As of June 25, 2018, two of the original judgment creditors, Joseph and Pilar Altizer, were still seeking to collect their share of the judgment; the other creditors had assigned their interests to WVJP 2017-1, LP. The total indebteness of the Highsmiths, according to a paper filed on that date, had risen to $1,003,515.40—meaning that the judgment, if enforceable, is now worth in excess of $1.2 million.
When WVJP sought to levy execution on several parcels of real property owned by one of the judgment debtors, legal skimishing ensued.
On May 29, 2019, San Mateo Superior Court Judge Susan Greenberg declared the renewal invalid based on John Bisordi having engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, finding meritless WVJP’s contention that Bisordi permissibly acted on behalf of a joint enterprise. She denied WVJP’s request to at least pare the amount of the renewed judgment to reflect the Bisordi family’s own proportional interest in it.
No Statutory Definition
In his opinion reversing Greenberg’s order, Richman said:
“Business and Professions Code section 6125 provides: ‘No person shall practice law in California unless the person is an active licensee of the State Bar.’ But the code provides no definition for the term ‘practice law.’ ”
It is, however, clear from case law that merely filling out forms without providing legal counseling does not constitute the practice of law, he set forth, remarking:
“Bisordi did not hold himself out as any kind of attorney, offer the other creditors any legal advice, or resolve for them any ‘difficult or doubtful legal questions’ that might ‘reasonably demand the application of a trained legal mind.’… He merely filled out a two-page standard Judicial Council form….”
The opinion orders “further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
The case is Altizer v. Highsmith, 2020 S.O.S.3575.
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