The unauthorized practice of law: woman posing as lawyer sentenced to jail and banned from legal profession

lawyer2n-2-webIn late December 2014, a woman was arrested in Summit County on allegations that she had been impersonating a Utah attorney and handling cases in court, representing actual clients under another attorney’s name.  The woman, identified as Karla Carbo, then 29 and residing in South Jordan, was arrested and booked into the Summit County Jail on suspicion of felony fraud, forgery and identity theft.

Carbo Held Self Out as an Attorney, Using Real Attorney’s Bar Information

Investigators said that Carbo had held herself out as an attorney in several jurisdictions, including impersonating an attorney at least times in the six months before her arrest.  Carbo was arrested within a week negotiating felony counts down to misdemeanors on behalf of her client in Summit County.  In fact it was that exact plea deal that garnered the attention of the Utah Bar Association.  The Bar told police that Carbo had been using a legitimate attorney’s name and bar number to represent clients without a license.

Police said that Carbo had represented to the courts that her name was Karla Stirling Fierro, but that the bar number Carbo gave as her own actually belonged to Utah attorney Karla Stirling.  In an interview, Stirling said, “It’s been shocking to hear that there’s been somebody else whose doing this with my name and my bar number.  I mean, who would take it that far to full-on impersonate someone and use a legitimate bar number?”

Stirling Was Completely Unaware Carbo Was Posing as Her

Stirling said that she found out about Carbo’s impersonation of her when she was contacted by the Draper City Justice Court about a pending hearing.  Stirling told the court she had no idea what they were talking about, and that she did not even practice criminal law.  “I said, ‘I don’t know what this is. There must be some mistake.’ And they went back and checked and said, ‘Oh no, this is no mistake,'” Stirling said.

“I don’t do any criminal work. I’ve never done any criminal work or immigration or personal injury. I’ve done business contracts, real estate,” Stirling said.  “I have not done any litigation matters in Utah.  There shouldn’t be any court files with my name or my bar number in Utah whatsoever.”

Soon after the court contacted Stirling, the Summit County Attorney’s Office got a call from the Utah State Bar telling them “that Fierro was not an attorney.”

Utah AG’s Office Takes Over Prosecution

In April 2015, the Utah Attorney General’s Office took over the prosecution of Carbo’s case.  That meant that Summit County prosecutor’s agreed to dismiss the charges pending against Carbo there, while new charges would be filed by the State in 3rd District Court.  The State charged Carbo with 12 felony counts, including one count each of second-degree felony engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity and identity fraud, along with five counts of second-degree felony communications fraud.  The charges also include five counts of third-degree felony forgery, court records show.

Carbo Pleads Guilty to Felony Counts, Including UPUAA Count

In July 2015, Carbo accepted a plea deal from State prosecutors, which required her to plead guilty to second-degree felony counts of pattern of unlawful activity, identity fraud, communication fraud, and one third-degree felony count of forgery.  In exchange for Carbo’s pleas, prosecutors dismissed eight other counts.  As part of the plea deal, Carbo agreed to pay more than $7,000 in restitution – money she earned as legal fees for her misrepresented services.  As it related to sentencing, prosecutors told Judge Keith Kelly at the plea hearing that they would be asking the court to impose a 90-day jail sentence with probation to follow that.

Carbo Sentenced to 62 Days in Jail, Ordered to Pay Restitution, and Banished From Legal Profession

At the sentencing hearing in September 2015, Judge Kelly sentenced Carbo to 62 days in jail.  Judge Kelly suspended potential prison terms of up to 15 years and, per a plea agreement negotiated by attorneys, ordered her to serve 90 days in jail, but gave her credit for 28 days already served.  Judge Kelly also imposed 36 months of probation, which required Carbo to complete 75 hours of community service, as well as obtain treatment to address theft issues.  Carbo was also ordered to pay approximately $7,274 in restitution to five clients wo paid for her fraudulent legal services.  Finally, Judge Kelly ordered that Carbo not engage in any legal-related employment.

Carbo’s attorney said of the sentence, “She understands she has harmed these people. She understands she has harmed the legal system.”  “She’s a hardworking mother and she just wants to put this behind her,” her attorney added.

Carbo Victims Offered “Do-Over”

As it relates to the plea deal Carbo negotiated just prior to her arrest, Summit County attorney Matthew Bates said, “This is a very serious matter because we know of at least one person out there now who has pled guilty to a crime without having a competent attorney.”  Further, Bates said that the judge in that case had sent a notice to the defendant telling him what had happened and scheduled a new court date, at which time the defendant will be allowed to be appointed a real attorney as well as withdraw his guilty plea if he wants to, and that Bates’ office would not object to a “do-over.”

“Legally, he has pretty solid grounds to withdraw his plea if he wanted to because the plea was essentially uncounseled and an uncounseled plea is a violation of the Constitution,” Bates said.

While, Carbo’s criminal matter may have been resolved, the Utah Pattern of Unlawful Activity Act (“UPUAA”) allows persons harmed by a pattern of unlawful activity to file a civil suit against the wrongdoer.  That portion of the UPUAA allows a person injured through a pattern of unlawful activity to recover “twice the damages” he or she “sustains,” as well as “the costs of suit, including reasonable attorney fees” if they prevail.  A civil action under the UPUAA must be commenced “within three years after the conduct prohibited by Section 76-10-1603 terminates or the cause of action accrues, whichever is later.”

Contact Our UPUAA Team Today

To date it does not appear that any of Carbo’s victims have filed suit against her under the civil prong of the UPUAA, but they still have time.  If you or someone you know has been a victim of a pattern of unlawful activity, do not hesitate to call our UPUAA attorney team for a consultation.  Conversely, if you have been arrested and charged with a violation of the UPUAA, which is a second-degree felony, please contact our UPUAA attorneys for a consultation as well.  Our UPUAA attorneys can be reached by telephone at (801) 323-5000 or by email at Karra.Porter@chisjen.com.

* Photo Cred.: nydailynews.com

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