Anita Laureen Clark pleaded no contest to ten criminal charges, including six counts of grand theft, in a settlement reached with prosecutors in Santa Monica Superior Court Tuesday, June 8th.
The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office had filed a total of 46 counts against Clark in a paralegal fraud scheme involving 35 different alleged victims.
The city alleged that Clark posed as an attorney and bilked dozens of “clients” out of nearly $50,000.
In other cases, the city alleged that Clark said she was a paralegal, but then performed “attorney services” and performed those services “incompetently.”
As a result, the “consequences” were “disastrous” for the victims in their divorce, immigration and bankruptcy cases, the city alleged.
Two of the victims had allegedly paid Clark more than $7,000 each.
“This case sends a clear message to consumers with legal problems,” said deputy city attorney Adam Radinsky.
“If you try to save money by hiring a non-attorney, beware. They are breaking the law if they perform lawyer-like services without a supervising attorney,” Radinsky said.
Clark was released from Los Angeles County Jail Tuesday, June 8th, after being locked up for 33 days for violating the terms of her bail.
She was released after paying an initial $5,000 to the City Attorney’s Office to go towards the victims’ restitution.
Clark’s sentence includes:
– five years of formal probation;
– three years in County jail if she violates probation terms;
– paying back $49,716 to the victims;
– never engaging in any law-related employment;
– canceling all advertisements and telephone numbers of her business;
– getting a full-time job or providing proof of good faith attempts to find a job if unemployed;
– periodically answering questions under oath about assets, employment and ability to pay restitution; and
– paying restitution if any additional past victims surface.
The City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit began investigating Clark August 2003 after receiving complaints from several consumers who had hired her to perform legal work.
After a four-month investigation, the first criminal charges were filed against Clark in December last year.
While free on bail, the City Attorney’s Office alleged that Clark was continuing to conduct her “illicit business” in violation of a court order. She was taken to jail and held on $200,000 bail.
Under state law, it is a crime for a person to practice law without being a licensed attorney.
“Practicing law” is described as giving legal advice, making legal decisions in a case, claiming to be an expert in an area of law, contacting the opposing party or writing legal documents.
Non-attorneys are limited to two roles — providing purely clerical assistance or doing paralegal work directly under a supervising attorney.