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January 23, 08

NEWS / Man accused of practicing law without license

Finees Casado looked the part of a lawyer and acted the part, but lacked the credentials, authorities say.
Casado, who operates Casado’s Associates LLC, a storefront office on Jesse Jewell Parkway offering assistance in immigration and tax matters, faces possible grand jury indictment after being charged with felony theft by deception last month.

The arrest serves to underscore a more disturbing trend of people providing legal services without authority that has victimized Hall County’s sizable Hispanic immigrant population, one local attorney said.

Casado, 37, did not return a message left at his office seeking comment on his arrest. District Attorney Lee Darragh, whose office investigated and is prosecuting the case, wouldn’t discuss the case, citing his policy of not commenting on the facts of pending cases.

According to court documents, Casado was representing a client on a felony forgery charge in a plea hearing last October in front of Senior Superior Court Judge John Girardeau. Casado’s client, 31-year-old Jose Lopez-Vasquez, was accused of possessing a fake green card. The plea, signed off by Casado and his client, would result in a sentence of four years in probation, plus fines and fees.

At some point after the Oct. 10 hearing, Girardeau was informed that Casado was not a member of the state bar of Georgia. The judge ordered another plea hearing with a public defender representing the defendant and resentenced him on Oct. 24.

On Dec. 7, after an investigation by the district attorney’s office, Casado was arrested on a charge of felony theft by deception.

Warrants allege Casado "took (more than $500) by a deceitful means and artful practice by accepting retainer fees holding himself out to be a lawyer, which was untrue, resulting in a void plea and sentence."

Darragh would not say whether Casado represented any other criminal defendants whose cases might be affected.

On his Web site and the sign above his office, Casado primarily advertises for services in immigration law, taxes and as a notary public.

Gainesville immigration attorney David Kennedy said he was not familiar with Casado before his arrest, but noted that Casado could have legally practiced federal immigration law if he was licensed in another state and had been admitted to practice in that state’s highest court.

Casado set up his office in Gainesville in 2006 after practicing law in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, according to his Web site.

Casado would have broken the law, however, if he was unlicensed in Georgia and tried to practice law in a state court without first getting special permission from a judge.

Gerald Edenfield, president of the State Bar of Georgia’s executive committee, said the organization’s Unauthorized Practice of Law division is set up to find and report such cases.

"We take it very, very seriously," Edenfield said. "That’s one thing we believe you need to protect the public from."

Cases like Casado’s are relatively rare — officials say more common are lawyers who continue to practice after failing to pay their state bar fees, or non-lawyers who give legal advice or file pleadings without authority.

Kennedy said the larger problem for area immigrants is the legal advice given by Spanish-speaking notary publics who are making decisions in immigration cases that only lawyers should make. In Mexico, the term "notorio publico" refers to a person trained in the law, while virtually anyone can be a notary public in the United States, Kennedy said.

Kennedy said when "notorios" in Hall County consult their clients on immigration cases, many times they are irrevocably damaged.

"I still see an awful lot of cases where people come to my office having been to these ‘notorios,’ and their cases are all messed up," Kennedy said.

Casado advertises himself as a "notorio publico" and an "abagado de immigracion," or "immigration lawyer."

Whether Casado is licensed to practice law in other states could not be determined Tuesday. And while the state bar recommends the safeguard of requiring an attorney to provide his bar number in all documents he files with the court, most folks who come to court are taken at their word when they say they are lawyers.

"If you walk in there wearing a suit and act like you know what you’re doing, I can’t imagine them stopping you," Kennedy said.

By Stephen Gurr

Source: http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/article/2870/

Tags: notary public, document, notary,


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