Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is Use Of Forms Unauthorized Practice?

An interesting unauthorized practice case is scheduled to be argued tomorrow before the Ohio Supreme Court.

The court's web page summarizes

The Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law has recommended that the Supreme Court find that Thomas Jones, Jr., of Cleveland, has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by preparing four deeds for two Cleveland homeowners. The board also recommends that the court issue an order prohibiting Jones, who is not an attorney, from practicing law as a non-lawyer in the future and charge him a $10,000 civil penalty.

In its report, the board states Jones and his business partner, disbarred Ohio attorney Michael Troy Watson, purchased properties in foreclosure and prepared quitclaim deeds for the owners to transfer the properties to them. The board points out that legal documents, including deeds, contracts, and trusts, may not be prepared by a non-lawyer for the benefit of another. The report notes that Jones didn’t cooperate in the investigation. The board concludes that the homeowners, probably unaware that a non-lawyer was preparing their legal documents, may have suffered financial harm.

Jones has filed objections to the board’s findings and recommendations. Questioning how he could have known that printing forms from the Internet was the unauthorized practice of law, he adds that the court hasn’t announced that it’s unlawful for a layperson to use fill-in-the-blank forms to transfer property. This court already addressed this case when it ruled on a 2005 complaint against Watson, he says, and the board’s “harassment” of him simply stems from his business partnership with Watson. He requests either a rehearing by the board’s panel assigned to this matter or dismissal of the charge.

The Disciplinary Counsel, which filed the complaint against Jones with the board, responds that the court has previously decided that drafting or writing a legal document for another person is the practice of law even if the document is copied from a “form book” and completed. As far as the earlier Watson case, the Disciplinary Counsel states it’s legally improper to raise this issue, as Jones did, in a motion to dismiss the case. The appropriate time to make this defense is when filing a response to the board’s complaint, which they say Jones never did. They also assert that Jones didn’t appear at a deposition, has offered no evidence to refute the facts, and ultimately has chosen not to participate in the proceedings – so the court shouldn’t grant a rehearing request.

The court's arguments are available on video. (Mike Frisch)


Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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