Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Non-Lawyer Pretended To Be Immigration Attorney

A Cincinnati woman practiced law without authorization by distributing business cards stating she was an attorney and by preparing documents for a man seeking assistance with an immigration issue.

The Ohio Supreme Court today prohibited Mary E. Hernandez, who is not admitted to practice law in Ohio or any other state, from engaging in any further unauthorized practice of law (UPL) and assessed a $15,000 civil penalty against her.

In early 2011, Miguel Galan-Rubio met with Hernandez after picking up her business card promoting “Hernandez Law” at a local market. Galan-Rubio’s three children are U.S. citizens, but he was facing possible deportation because he illegally entered the country around 1999.

Hernandez’ fraud … preyed on vulnerable, unwitting victims who are unfamiliar with the immigration process …. The consequences of such schemes are enormous.

Hernandez’ fraud … preyed on vulnerable, unwitting victims who are unfamiliar with the immigration process …. The consequences of such schemes are enormous.

He and Hernandez discussed his immigration matters, including a hearing set for March 16, 2011. Hernandez claimed she had a personal relationship with someone at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and had contacts with the immigration judge who would hear his case, along with the governor and a senator.

During the following weeks, Hernandez asked Galan-Rubio for some payment of fees and told him he did not need to appear at his March hearing. She also presented him with documents, including a forged one indicating the judge had received Galan-Rubio’s paperwork.

By the end of February, Galan-Rubio was suspicious about Hernandez and called the immigration court, which informed him that his hearing had not been cancelled. He then found a practicing attorney to represent him.

That attorney notified numerous agencies about what had happened, and the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began an investigation to find out whether the immigration judge and the other contact Hernandez claimed she had at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had accepted bribes from Hernandez in the matter. The office later determined the officials did not commit any misconduct.

In one subsequent monitored phone call, Hernandez told Galan-Rubio he again did not need to attend any court appointments, he should not call the court, and the judge had taken care of everything. She also asked for more money for her services. Later she wrote him, demanding $2,500 in payment and threatening to contact immigration officials or file a lawsuit, which would likely lead to his deportation.

In today’s unanimous per curiam decision, the court noted that federal law allows nonlawyers to represent people in immigration hearings in some specific and limited circumstances. However, the court pointed out, those exceptions do not apply here because Hernandez falsely presented herself as an attorney.

In determining the appropriate sanction, the court looked at several factors, including Hernandez’ failure to cooperate with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel’s investigation or respond to the complaint filed against her. The court also examined the flagrancy of her violations and the harm she caused to third parties.

“[Hernandez] falsely claimed to have personal relationships with real federal employees, forged letters that purported to be from the immigration judge presiding over Galan-Rubio’s case, and alleged that they were her coconspirators, willing to engage in ex parte communications and accept bribes in exchange for a favorable outcome in a pending case,” the opinion stated. The reputations of those federal employees were damaged by her actions, and they were investigated by a federal agency, the court added.

“Hernandez’ fraud … also preyed on vulnerable, unwitting victims who are unfamiliar with the immigration process and who may be accustomed to the practice of bribing government officials to obtain favorable results in their countries of origin. The consequences of such schemes are enormous.”

In this case, Galan-Rubio paid Hernandez $2,050, and the federal office investigating the matter gave him $600 to pay her during their inquiry. Galan-Rubio’s attorney also said if he had not shown up for his March hearing, he may have been deported and unable to return to the United States for 10 years.

“Because Hernandez failed to cooperate in the [UPL] proceedings, there is no way to know how many others may have fallen victim to her scheme,” the court noted.

The court imposed the maximum $10,000 penalty for Hernandez’ handling of Galan-Rubio’s matter and a $5,000 penalty for advertising legal services on her business cards. The court did not order restitution at this time, but explained that state law allows a victim of the unauthorized practice of law to sue the nonlawyer directly to recover fees and damages.

2014-0517. Disciplinary Counsel v. Hernandez, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-5486.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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