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Riverside lawyer resigns after immigration blunders

A Riverside immigration lawyer who was facing disbarment because, among other things, he filed asylum applications for clients who were not entitled to asylum, has resigned. TIMOTHY PAUL MASON [#192622], 39, was likely to lose his license after State Bar Court Judge JoAnn Remke found that he committed multiple acts of “egregious misconduct” including abandoning his clients after “offering them to the INS for removal proceedings.” She recommended his disbarment.

Admitted to the bar in 1998, Mason opened shop in Riverside and Tijuana and hired several people with whom he split fees. He had stationery, business cards and a Web site that represented his firm as Mason & Bokhari; Faiq Bokhari claimed to be a lawyer in Pakistan but is not a California attorney.

Fluent in Spanish, Mason represented primarily Mexican immigrants and repeatedly convinced the clients he would not take their cases unless he was confident he could obtain the appropriate visas for them. “And then he turned around and abandoned them,” Remke wrote. “He represented to the Immigration Court that ‘in good conscience,’ he could no longer represent his clients . . . because they had failed to provide him with adequate documents to proceed with their cases when in fact, they had given him all that he had requested.”

Mason’s former secretary testified at a five-day trial that he instructed her and other employees to routinely complete asylum applications without any grounds. His former office manager testified that Mason instructed him how to handle complaining clients, including calling the police if the clients would not leave the office.

The office manager also testified that he was instructed to tell clients that Bokhari was an attorney and that he specialized in labor certification. The office manager said he also prepared asylum applications.

Remke found that Mason shared fees totaling nearly $7,000 with his office manager and her investigator husband in about 20 cases. He “claimed he knew sharing fees with non-lawyers was unethical but that ‘other attorneys did it,’” Remke wrote. “He viewed it ‘more as a speeding ticket than manslaughter.’”

In total, Remke found that Mason committed 27 acts of misconduct in seven client matters. They included six counts of failure to perform legal services competently or refund unearned fees, five counts of moral turpitude, as well as improperly sharing fees with non-lawyers, aiding in the unauthorized practice of law, abandoning clients and failing to maintain client funds, render accounts or communicate with clients.

Three clients, all Mexican nationals, hired Mason to help legalize their status in the U.S. In each case, Mason filed the client’s application for asylum with the INS under the client’s name in pro per. Each application was denied and the three were ordered to appear at removal hearings in immigration court.

Mason then told the court he was the client’s attorney and filed a required form that included documentation of the client’s residency. In each case, Mason later filed a motion to withdraw, claiming he had a conflict with the client, who had not provided all documents he requested.

One client told the State Bar Court that Mason never informed him he would seek asylum and never asked for documents to demonstrate unusual hardship or good moral character. He said he provided everything Mason asked for, was unaware of any conflicts and signed the asylum application because Mason asked him to and he trusted Mason.

Although Mason said he considered his tactics a legitimate strategy and justified it as common practice among immigration lawyers, an expert at his trial testified otherwise.

John Nelson, an immigration law expert, said that Mexican nationals generally are not eligible for asylum because they come to the United States for financial reasons, not because of political persecution. Filing an asylum application subjects the individual to a removal proceeding, Nelson testified. He also said most immigration lawyers would not file an asylum application without supporting documentation.

Remke noted that Mason’s actions caused severe financial hardships for the three clients, who had to appear at deportation hearings and hire new lawyers “to have their cases reopened, which caused substantial delay and possibly forfeiture of their rights, not to mention the personal devastation and stress involved.”

Mason also did not refund six clients’ unearned fees — a total of $19,000.

One matter was dismissed because Mason did not file an appeal brief. He told the client he would correct his mistakes if the client would withdraw his complaint to the State Bar.

In that case, as well as several others, his billing statements charged “maintenance fees” without any justification, and Mason falsely claimed that accounts were overdue.

Mason argued that he made some serious mistakes but that he did not represent his clients in a frivolous manner.

Remke disagreed, characterizing his misconduct as egregious and accusing Mason of taking “advantage of unsuspecting people” who trusted him and paid him large fees, despite their financial limitations. Mason “flagrantly breached his fiduciary duties to his clients and abused their trust as their attorney,” she concluded.

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