Archive for » May, 2010 «

As reported in previous blogs, a former paralegal, Bonnie Sweeten, who worked for a Philadelphia law firm was jailed and convicted for identity theft and filing a false police report.  The longtime paralegal and office manager for a suburban Philadelphia law firm is now facing 23 new criminal charges after being indicted today by a federal grand jury.

Jailed last year after being convicted of identity theft and filing a false police report in another case, Bonnie Sweeten now is facing the consequences for allegedly stealing some $700,000 from the law firm, its clients and her colleagues, according to the Trentonian.

She made national headlines prior to her earlier case when she disappeared and claimed to have been abducted but actually was determined to have been on vacation at Disney World with her daughter.

Sweeten is accused of misusing her position at the Bucks County firm, posing as her boss as well as assuming other identities to perpetrate a variety of thefts. In the process, she allegedly fabricated a court order, a power of attorney, a bail assignment, driver’s licenses, a U.S. passport and other documents, the newspaper reports.

“As the indictment alleges, this defendant went to great lengths to defraud people who trusted her,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger. “She betrayed family members, her employer, her friends, and the general public.”

Still in jail at the tail end of the prison term imposed on her last year, the 38-year-old Sweeten now faces a sentence of as much as 375 years if she is convicted of all 23 of the new federal counts. The charges against her include wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, misuse of a passport, lying to federal official and money laundering.

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In Ontario, Canada, paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, giving paralegals an independent status in this jurisdiction and are licensed and regulated the same way that lawyers are.  The Province of Ontario, Canada, recently became the first jurisdiction in North America to provide for the licensing of independent paralegals. This change now allows paralegals to act as legal agents who have the ability to represent on many matters, including all Provincial Offences, work for Provincial Tribunals and Boards, as well as Summary Criminal Cases. They are not “law clerks” in the province of Ontario, Canada but rather are considered officers of the court, a formal part of the legal system.

In researching this, I found that paralegals can represent clients in the Ontario Small Claims Court, Landlord and Tenant Board, Worker’s Safety and Insurance Board and for Summary Criminal Cases.  There is of course, a licensing procedure before a paralegal can represent a client.  To read more about paralegal licensing and regulations, click here.

In California, paralegals can represent clients in Workers Compensation (California Bar Committee on Professional Responsibility formal opinion 1988-103) but only a law firm can allow its paralegals to represent clients at workers compensation hearings if there is supervision and the client consents to nonlawyer representation.

Part of the opinion states that a lawyer or law firm contemplating entering into such an arrangement should remember that an attorney stands in a fiduciary relationship with the client. (Krusesky v. Baugh (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 562, 567.) When acting as a fiduciary, the law imposes upon a member the strictest duty of prudent conduct as well as an obligation to perform his or her duties to the best of the attorney’s ability. (Clark v. State Bar (1952) 39 Cal.2d 161, 167; and cf. Bus. & Prof. Code, sec. 6067; Rule of Professional Conduct 6-101(A).)  However, an attorney does not have to bear the entire burden of attending to every detail of the practice, but may be justified in relying to some extent on non-attorney employees. (Moore v. State Bar (1964) 62 Cal.2d 74, 80; Vaughn v. State Bar (1972) 6 Cal.3d 847, 857.)

The attorney who delegates responsibilities to his or her employees must keep in mind that he or she, as the attorney, has the duty to adequately supervise the employee. In fact, the attorney will be subject to discipline if the lawyer fails to adequately supervise the employee. (Chefsky v. State Bar (1984) 36 Cal.3d 116, 123; Palomo v. State Bar (1984) 36 Cal.3d 785, 795; Gassman v. State Bar (1976) 18 Cal.3d 125.)

Paralegals may represent clients before the Labor Board (California Labor Code, sections 5501, 5700) California Labor Code section 5501 states that nonlawyer representation is allowed but the appeals board must be notified in writing that the representative is not an attorney licensed by the State Bar of California.

Paralegals can also represent clients before California Unemployment Appeals Board (California Unemployment Insurance Code § 1957 (1956)  The codes states that a nonlawyer may represent any individual claiming benefits in any proceedings before the Appeals Board.  No agent or counsel shall charge or receive for such services more than an amount approved by the appeals board.  Violations for this provision shall be fined no less than $50 and no more than $1,000 or be imprisoned not more than six months or both.
As a paralegal looking to branch out, I am considering the options above.  I would love to hear from other paralegals, in California and elsewhere, on the types of representations they have done and why they loved it or would never do again.  I would also love to hear from paralegals who are also considering branching out into representing clients in some way.  


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Earlier this week the Guinness Book of World Records reported that there is a new U.S. tallest man who is 7 feet 8.33 inches in height.  Igor Vovkovinskiy is currently the tallest man in the United States but is not the tallest man in the world.  At the present time the tallest man in the world comes in at 8 foot 1 inch and lives in Turkey.

The tallest man in the United States is currently attending the Minnesota School of Business and is seeking a degree in paralegal studies.  Mr. Vovkovinskiy takes the title of the tallest man in the United States by just 1/3 of an inch.  The tallest man to ever live was 8 foot 11 inches.

Igor came to the United States in 1989 at the age of 7 and he is also known as the world’s biggest Obama supporter.  Welcome to the Paralegal world, Igor!

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California Supreme Court on  Prop 8 Day of Dec...
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

In an article appearing in JDSupra, written by Larry Bodine,  the California Supreme Court ruled in Simpson Strong-Tie Co. v. Gore on May 17, 2010 that a plaintiff lawyer who was seeking clients for a possible class action lawsuit had a right to publish an advertisement regarding defective decks on homes. The maker of screws for decks sued Gore for libel, false advertising and unfair business practices. Gore won at trial and on appeal. The state Supreme Court ruled that the lawyer was entitled to invoke the state anti-SLAPP statute to protect his free speech rights in publishing the ad.

This case originated in Santa Clara County and is good news for attorneys with regards to advertising.  If you would like to read the entire Supreme Court ruling, click here.

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The large drive is a 5.25" full-height 11...Image via Wikipedia

I found this fascinating quote today:

If a “malcontent” manages to take the “hard drive” out of your copy machine, can you imagine the goldmine of information it would yield?  Even in the most typical solo family law office, for example, the copy machine’s “hard drive” would likely contain page after page of bank accounts, investment records, diaries, correspondence, emails, the list could go and on.  All for the taking – in plain ‘ole text.  No codes, no encryption, na da.cyberesq.wordpress.com, Cyber-Esq., May 2010

You should read the whole article.

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Category: Family Law  10 Comments
Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.
Image via Wikipedia

If you haven’t caught the First Lady’s Mother’s Day Tea video, you can check it out here. It is funny and moving as most of Mrs. Obama’s speeches are.  To all of the wonderful Mothers out there, and all of the wonderful Mother figures, Happy Mother’s Day!

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