"Paralegal receives mixed verdict"

So, is this good news? Or bad news for the paralegal profession?

"A Wailuku paralegal who said she 'filled in the blanks' for a customer on a divorce form has been acquitted [emphasis added] of a charge of unauthorized practice of law.

"Kitty Atchley, 54, was found guilty [emphasis added] of two misdemeanor counts of unsworn falsification to authorities for documents she filed in court as part of a divorce case in 2005.

"Atchley said she filed a document indicating the woman’s husband had been served with divorce papers in Kihei, even though Marten-Naidenko had told her he was in Russia.

"She continued filing documents even after Marten-Naidenko called Atchley to 'pull the plug on the divorce,' Atchley said, because she believed the woman was in an abusive relationship and feared for her safety. Atchley said she was following the woman’s earlier instructions not to stop the divorce proceedings no matter what she said."


Conspicuous Hole in [Paralegal] Ethics Training

This commentary in Law.com by an experienced paralegal surprised me. What's your reaction?

"For all the talk of the need to prevent ethics transgressions in the legal profession, a glaring education gap exists for one group: paralegals.

"Usually, it does not rise to the level of a topic to be covered -- until there is a problem. It generally crops up after an unintentional violation of the attorney-client relationship by support staff members who have received no ethics training.

"As a paralegal for more than seven years, I often get questions from colleagues asking what to do in certain situations. Those of us who have been educated in an American Bar Association-accredited program have some knowledge of ethical issues. However, some support staff are not even aware of the ethical issues to avoid, yet they are on their firms' front lines every day, in danger of unintentionally violating ethics rules.

"In a poll taken on Jan. 3 by NJParalegal, we asked our members the following: Have you ever received training or instruction by your attorney-employer on how to handle ethical issues, specifically, maintaining attorney-client relationships and the confidentiality of your clients?

"The answer: Of the 42 who responded, 80 percent said no."

Author Cindy Lopez is a paralegal in the office of Charles Byrnes in Toms River, N.J., and is founder of NJParalegal, a career resource. She's also a speaker for Estrin LegalEd Paralegal SuperConferences.


"Florida Supreme Court hears paralegal rule argument"

Paralegals working in Florida will want to keep an eye on the proceedings outlined in the Jacksonville Daily Record:

"The Unlicensed Practice of Law (UPL) program was established by the Supreme Court of Florida to protect the public against harm caused by unlicensed individuals practicing law.

"This program is a proposal only. It has been approved by the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar. The Supreme Court of Florida must now rule on the proposal.

"Monday, the Supreme Court of Florida held oral argument on the proposed Florida Registered Paralegal rule [PDF]. The Court gave no indication as to when it will rule or how it will rule. Updates will be posted on the Bar’s Web site."


"Check Your Lawyer's Credentials"

This story about a paralegal masquerading as a lawyer gets even more snarky:

[snip]

"In a 2005 litigation case, [Brian T.] Valery told a court in Stamford, Connecticut that he was a lawyer in good standing. Last week, Connecticut authorities arrested him, and he faces two month for the impersonating-a-lawyer charge and up to five years for perjury (the claim of being a lawyer in good standing).

"What's great is how clients explain Valery's 'unimpressive' skills; one Valery client told the NY Times, 'All first- and second-year attorneys are pretty terrible.'"


"Paralegal arrested on sex charges"

Oh. My. Not the kind of headline one likes to see, but I had to read the article:

"A Polk City man was arrested Wednesday after detectives said he impersonated a lawyer and offered a woman free legal service if she performed sex acts on him.

"Leonard W. Yanke Jr., 55, who is a paralegal, faces charges that include unlicensed practice of law, solicitation of legal services and compelling another to become a prostitute, the Sheriff's Office reported."


Remember that paralegal who impersonated a lawyer?

...well, he was arrested & charged with unauthorized practice of law:

"A man who prosecutors said had been representing clients of a prominent New York law firm for two years was arrested here on Wednesday and charged with impersonating a lawyer, state prosecutors said.

"The man, Brian T. Valery, 32, of Massapequa Park, N.Y., surrendered to the authorities and was charged with perjury, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and practicing law without being a lawyer, a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of two months, according to David I. Cohen, the state’s attorney for the judicial district. Mr. Valery was released and must appear in State Superior Court on Jan. 24.

[snip]

"The arrest came as a blow to Mr. Valery’s former employer, the New York firm of Anderson Kill & Olick, which said it had been scouring its records for several weeks so it could notify clients who might be due refunds as a result of being billed for Mr. Valery’s work."


"She puts her name in the papers"

Real case managed by a bonded & registered Legal Document Assistant in Califormia:

"In 2004, an anxious young husband and father approached Just Document Preparation in Riverside to help him file a domestic violence restraining order against his wife.

"He wanted to protect himself and his young daughter from his wife's abuse stemming from her refusal to take medication for schizophrenia.

"Annette Gomez, owner of the firm, interviewed the client. An assistant quickly typed up the court papers, filing them within 24 hours. 'He got temporary sole custody of his child,' Gomez said.

"Gomez is bonded and registered as a legal document assistant [PDF] in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

"For 10 years, she has prepared legal documents for pro per litigants at her Just Document Preparation."


Firm Discovers 'Associate' Is Not a Lawyer

Despite many "red flags," it took Anderson Kill & Olick almost three years to find out this 'associate' was a paralegal!

"While Brian T. Valery 's legal education is in question, he could likely graduate with honors from the Frank Abagnale Jr. school of deceit.

"Valery is under fire for his pro hac vice appearance in a 2005 complex litigation case heard in Stamford, Conn. His motion to appear, which went unopposed, was based on his affidavit stating he was an attorney in good standing at the New York City firm of Anderson Kill & Olick. He also claimed to be a member of the New York Bar with no history of discipline.

"As it turns out, Valery not only isn't a member of the Bar, there's no record that he ever applied or sat for the bar exam in New York or even set foot in a Fordham Law School classroom, which he told Anderson Kill partners he was doing at night to advance his career beyond that of a paralegal, Connecticut grievance officials say.

"Abagnale, a notorious con artist on whom the 2002 movie 'Catch Me If You Can' is based, was convicted of passing bad checks worth millions of dollars while working in the Louisiana attorney general's office. He got that job thanks in part to a forged Harvard Law School transcript.

"In an apparently similar display of dupery, Valery, after working at Anderson Kill since 1996, told the firm in 2004 he had passed the New York Bar. Partners at the 132-lawyer firm have conceded to Connecticut grievance authorities that they regrettably took Valery at his word."

I think Anderson Kill would be wise to update its Vault [PDF] listing, particularly those comments from associates about why they like this firm. It has "since modified our procedures for doing...admissions checks to prevent this from happening again."

UPDATE: Note a somewhat different take on this story here: "Paralegal Dupes a Law Firm." Of course, the paralegal was quite wrong to claim lawyer credentials (& actually 'practice law'), but I thought law firms would have been smart enough to check.

What do you think?


"Bad paperwork, advice hurts immigrants"

One reason why California's Business & Prof. Code 6450 went into effect -- independent paralegals' mistakes when delivering services directly to the public:

"Some immigrants want U.S. citizenship after they sneak past the border. Others need to renew a visa to stay legal. And still others want political asylum to escape persecution in their home country.

"Yet, Sara Coën-Giovanelli has seen all their papers stream into her office, botched, blemished, butchered and marred.

"'Sometimes it's a lack of care, sometimes it's a lack of interest or sometimes it's just dishonesty,' Coën-Giovanelli, 40, an immigration attorney at Weiss, Alden & Polo P.A. in Boca Raton, said last month as she reviewed complaints against Florida paralegals and businesses charged with deceiving immigrants who went to them for help."


"Paralegal Faces Trial"

Oh, no, definitely not good news:

"A July 6 trial date has been set for a Fort Smith paralegal accused of giving legal advice while not licensed to practice law.

"A complaint filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court by attorney Jim Hollis of the U.S. Trustee’s Office in Little Rock alleges that Mary Angela Barnett, a paralegal employed at the Sexton and Sanders law firm in Fort Smith, gave legal advice to Richard Wayne Graham and Tommie Anne Graham while serving as their bankruptcy petition preparer. The Grahams filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case in October.

"A bankruptcy petition preparer is defined as a person other than a lawyer who prepares a bankruptcy document for filing for a fee. Federal law states that a bankruptcy petition preparer cannot give legal advice.

[snip]

"Barnett has shown a 'clear and consistent pattern' of violating the law in this case and several other cases in which she prepared bankruptcy documents, the complaint alleges."