Fake attorneys could face felony charges
State Bar and Seymour James urge Assembly to pass bill
NEW YORK — New York state should toughen the law to protect innocent New Yorkers who suffer serious harm caused by individuals falsely representing themselves as lawyers, Brooklyn attorney and State Bar Association President Seymour W. James Jr. says.
“Individuals who fraudulently hold themselves out as attorneys can and do cause serious harm to their unsuspecting victims. Potential consequences for victims can include jail time, loss of child custody, deportation and other financial hardships,” James said. The poor and immigrants are most frequently targeted, he said.
Consumers should be protected from unscrupulous individuals who fraudulently claim to be licensed professionals, James urged. This is recognized in state law which makes it a felony to impersonate a doctor, dentist, veterinarian, chiropractor, social worker, accountant, landscape architect, court stenographer or many other professionals. However, impersonating an attorney is only a misdemeanor in New York, even if the consumer is seriously harmed.
A bill (S.1998A/A.5700A) would make it a Class E felony when someone engages in the unauthorized practice of law and thereby causes someone else to suffer monetary loss exceeding $1,000, or other significant damage resulting from impairment of a consumer’s legal right.
The bill has been passed by the Senate and recently was reported out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
“This important legislation will protect New Yorkers from unscrupulous predators. We commend the Senate for passing the bill and urge the Assembly to follow suit and send it to the Governor for his signature,” James said.
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