California Bar Journal
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New protections for consumers
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Consumers victimized by individuals who practice law without a license will have substantial new remedies available to them under legislation signed into law recently by Gov. Gray Davis. That same legislation imposes new constraints on fraudulent activities by immigration consultants, reflecting a growing concern in Sacramento about the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).

The legislation in question is SB 1194, a measure sponsored by Attorney General Bill Lockyer and authored by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles). The most significant UPL-related bill enacted in the past few years, SB 1194 provides that in an enforcement action by a prosecuting attorney, the court may provide - and, indeed, is required to consider - such relief for the victimized party as actual damages, full restitution of all amounts paid, and reasonable attorney's fees and costs. This would permit a victim of a UPL, where the case is publicly prosecuted, to gain relief for losses suffered without filing a separate civil suit.

SB 1194 also repeals existing provisions of law that permit an immigration consultant to make a cash deposit with the Secretary of State in lieu of filing a bond, and makes it unlawful for a person to hold himself or herself out as an immigration consultant unless the person has the required bond on file with the Secretary of State for the entire period covered by any such statement.

The bill is follow-up to Romero's AB 1858 of last year, which boosted from $10,000 to $100,000 the civil penalty that victims of immigration fraud can collect for the unauthorized practice of law by an immigration consultant. AB 1858 also required both attorneys and non-attorneys offering immigration and naturalization services to provide increased disclosure to California consumers about their status and qualifications.

Also signed into law this year was a bill (AB 1083 - Bates) cleaning up provisions of earlier legislation which defined the paralegal profession and established professional standards that individuals must meet before they can call themselves paralegals.

The earlier legislation (AB 1761 (Brewer) of 2000) also gives a consumer who is injured by individuals governed by its requirements the right to seek redress in court, including an injunction, restitution, damages and recovery of attorney's fees.