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Stiffer UPL penalties under consideration

 

VIRGINIA BEACH—The Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on the Unauthorized Practice law still wants to put more teeth in the criminal statute outlawing UPL.

Bar Council voted in June 2009 to ask the General Assembly to increase the penalty from a misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, but the legislature’s budget staff projected that the measure would cost $150,000, and the bar abandoned the proposal when possible legislatived patrons told them they increased cost would make any bill dead on arrival.

The problem of harm to the public for egregious violations still exists, Sharon Nelson a member of the UPL committee and the VSB’s executive committee told the EC today.

The UPL committee wants to extend the statute of limitations for a violation to two years from the discovery of the offense but in no case less than five years from the occurrence. It also wants to authorize restitution to victims and establish a civil penalty of $200 to $5,000.

Nelson said the committee expects to publish the proposal for comment so that council can consider at its October meeting.

Committee members have said they have no interest in vigorous prosecution of the typical person who engages in the unauthorized practice of law.

 

That person usually is trying to help someone by drafting a will or providing some other advice that the law requires to come from a lawyer. A letter advising the person of the illegality usually eliminates the problem.

But in some cases, especially those involving immigrants or prison inmates, those persons may take hundreds or thousands of dollars to perform services that require legal training.

They include those who hold themselves out as “notarios” who can obtain citizenship or green cards from U.S. Immigration Services.

In some Latin American countries, notarios have the authority to perform some legal acts.

In this country, however, they have no such authority and cannot appear before the agency as attorneys.

Although such persons might be guilty of larceny by false pretenses or some other felony, the offenses can be difficult to prosecute without the assistance of the victim, who may no longer be in the country, committee members have said.

By Alan Cooper

One comment

  1. But at the same time, the UPL Committee rubber-stamped the UPL by tons of non-attorney employees of the Division of Child Support Enforcement. This after an initial complaint was dismissed, and then reinstated by the Ethics Counsel.

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