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Phony lawyer was 'just a scam artist'

Staff Writer

Suzi Schor
Schor (2002)

Suzi Schor looked good on paper when she applied for jobs at Bank of America and two law firms in southern California. Her resume included, at different times, a law degree from Georgetown University, undergraduate degree from UCLA, a magna cum laude award and solid experience in workers' compensation.

Although her flaming red hair and heavily rouged cheeks made her appear slightly eccentric, she was presentable. And she interviewed well, giving the right answers and seeming eager to get to work.

Suzi Schor
Schor (2002)

There was only one problem. The red-haired lawyer-apparent was not a lawyer. In reality, she was a 55-year-old with no formal legal training whom a Los Angeles prosecutor describes as "just a scam artist." Schor was arrested Nov. 1, charged with four felonies and two misdemeanors and now faces up to seven years in prison.

In her short career as a lawyer-poseur, she worked as a trust officer at Bank of America and as a workers' compensation attorney for Adelson, Testan & Brundo in Calabasas and for Goldstein Gurvitz Marlowe & Miller LLP in Encino. Along the way, according to district attorney and bar investigators, she assumed the identity of Susan Schorr, a licensed California attorney who works in Switzerland as a regulatory officer for ITU, a United Nations-affiliated telecommunications company.

Suzi Schor
Schor (1998)

Schor changed the State Bar status of Susan Schorr from inactive to active, paid bar dues, changed Schorr's address to her Woodland Hills address, received a bar card and ultimately tried to change the spelling of her name to Suzi Schor.

Her tale is a tangled one that has not yet been fully unraveled by investigators. Besides her pseudo-law career, investigators believe she offers her services as a licensed Ph.D. psychotherapist, she received a $200,000 insurance settlement for falling out of a chair, and she has claimed connections with a variety of celebrities, including singer Mel Torme and O.J. Simpson pal Robert Kardashian.

On one resume, she claimed 14 years of employment as a workers' comp attorney at Little Gypzy Management Inc., but investigators are unsure if such a company exists.

Suzi Schor
Schor (1994)

Based on her employment at the two law firms, however, the Los Angeles district attorney has charged her with two counts each of unauthorized practice of law, identity theft and grand theft, the result of receiving a salary while her office was unable to bill clients.

Schor declined to comment on the charges against her, saying only that she would plead not guilty at her arraignment late last month. Her attorney did not return a phone call.

Schor made her first connections in the summer of 2000 at the Santa Monica law firm of Bryan Axelrood, where she was hired as a clerk. Jordis Moore, an attorney who had worked for Axelrood but moved on to Bank of America, returned to the law office to train Schor. "She said she was an attorney and was really needing to support her elderly father and was having trouble finding a position," Moore recalled. "I knew the Bank of America was looking for other trust officers, so she applied there."

Suzi Schor
Schor (1994)

David Howland, who was then a BofA senior vice president and fiduciary group manager supervising 48 employees, said Schor was the only employee he did not interview before she was hired. Several team leaders interviewed her "and they thought she was fine," he said.

Because Schor worked as a trust officer, she was not required to have a law degree, so no check of State Bar records was necessary.

However, when the bank's personnel office did a background check shortly after Schor was hired, they turned up a felony conviction and required Howland to terminate her. A short time later, the bank learned that Schor's conviction record should have been expunged and told Howland to take her back, he said.

Suzi Schor
Schor (1993)

Already, however, Schor had raised suspicions in the office. Howland said she left a letter in a copy machine in which she threatened a lawsuit against a shoe company. A heel had apparently broken on her shoe, causing an ankle injury. But she wrote to the shoe company on bank letterhead and signed her name as an attorney, Howland said, violating company policy.

He also found letters she wrote to trust clients, telling them she was an attorney who could help them with any legal problems. Again, her signature said "Suzi Schor, Esq."

When Howland confronted her, she said her criminal record was to have been expunged. When he contacted the State Bar and found no record of a law license, she said she was licensed in Illinois. She also told Howland she had never claimed to be a California lawyer, and although she had been practicing for several years here, she believed she did not have to be licensed if she did not make court appearances.

Suzi Schor
Schor (1991)

Howland called Illinois and found no record of her there either. "When I told her Illinois never heard of you either, she said, 'Well, I am a licensed paralegal,'" Howland said.

By that time, he said, "I didn't want her back. I thought she was unethical." Schor also asked Moore to help her with her resume so Moore had provided her own to use as a template. She later learned that Schor simply cut and pasted Moore's background and presented it as her own.

When Moore confronted her, Schor said, "Oh, did I?" Moore said. "She would just play dumb." Schor worked only about 10 days at Bank of America, where she thumbtacked a Mensa certificate and a diploma from the University of Palmers Green above her desk. Palmers Green is a diploma mill in England, investigators said.

Suzi Schor
Schor (1990)

"She seemed to know something about trust work," said Howland, whose probing eventually led to Schor's undoing. "My only concern before things began to go wrong was she seemed a little rough around the edges. She was loud, wore a lot of rouge, had really red hair and wore low-cut blouses."

She made claims that were "obviously grandiose," said Moore, adding that Schor was "very convincing, very funny, very talkative, always had a story. She was like a funny old broad."

In April of 2002, Schor submitted to the State Bar a change of address, a change status from inactive to active, paid her bar fees and received a bar card, all under the name of Susan Schorr.

That month, she went to work for Klein Testan & Brundo, where she lasted four months. The firm did not return phone calls, but Bill Penzin, Los Angeles deputy district attorney, said its attorneys "are devastated. They fired her because she wasn't doing very well, but they still thought she was an attorney."

Suzi Schor
Schor (1989)

In October, Schor hired on at the Goldstein firm in Encino, where she lasted only 10 days before getting caught. Partner David Marlowe said during her interview, Schor "knew workers' comp, she knew a lot of people we knew, she seemed eager, enthusiastic, let's get started. She had the right answers. She was savvy on some level. She certainly knew enough to get by an interview."

By that time, however, Schor's credentials were unraveling. She had joined the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, and when Moore saw Schor listed in the association's newsletter with a slightly different spelling, she called the bar to warn them about a possible imposter. She also called Howland, whom she and other investigators call the hero of the story.

He called Georgetown Law School and then contacted the real Susan Schorr, convincing her to contact the bar.

Marlowe's firm called the bar around the same time, seeking advice on what spelling to use on their letterhead, since Schor spelled her name with both one R and two. "When we called, they said they had just deactivated her card," Marlowe said.

Meanwhile, Schor, whose salary would have been $85,000 a year, had made a few appearances, although Marlowe said she didn't do any substantive work. His firm reviewed all her files and did not bill any clients.

"We got very lucky," Marlowe said. "It was such a limited period of time that there wasn't an opportunity to screw up."

Schor was charged in 1994 in Los Angeles with three counts of forgery and pleaded guilty to attempted forgery and perjury, both misdemeanors, Penzin said. All her legal work is invalid and has to be reviewed, he said, estimating the law firms' losses at about $200,000. DA investigator Eric Cheung has found driver's licenses with three different names, although they may be married names, he said.

He also has nine DMV photos of Schor in which she looks completely different. An investigator for 15 years, Cheung said the number of photos is "very unusual. I wouldn't think a patrolman would be able to identify her with any of them."

Cheung believes Schor was surfing the net when she came across Schorr's name and "the idea of impersonating a lawyer just popped into her head." Her personal involvement in a workers' comp case gave her some legal insights and the rest, apparently, was chutzpah.

"The more I hear about her, the more I realize this is a lifetime profession for her," said Moore, who distanced herself from Schor when she feared becoming one of her victims. "Obviously this is someone who deals in fraud on a daily basis."

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