ILNews

Notario publico issues surface again

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Years ago, the Indiana Supreme Court made it clear what non-lawyers could and could not do related to immigration services. Crossing the line might be considered the unauthorized practice of law.

Now, two people in Indiana are facing the consequences of doing exactly that.

notario The Mexican Civic Association of Indiana Inc., located on Shelby Street in Indianapolis, is one of two businesses being sued by the Office of the Indiana Attorney General for providing legal immigration-related services without having a law license to do so. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The Indiana attorney general is using that court guidance from 2005 and pursuing cases against a pair of non-lawyers from Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. Both offered immigration-related services normally done by attorneys to their Spanish-speaking clients, but neither is a licensed lawyer and the AG alleges that neither is legally certified or trained to provide advice to clients on immigration law.

Each is accused of committing consumer deceptive sales acts and faces a civil action. The non-lawyer in Indianapolis also faces a misdemeanor of practicing law without a license and 10 criminal counts of income tax evasion.

While the individuals charged with UPL face multiple charges and potential penalties, the damage has already been done to those on the receiving end of those illegal matters. One person was barred from re-entering the country because of immigration issues that weren’t properly handled by one of these non-lawyer notarios, according to the AG’s office.

“Profiting from immigrants’ desperation over their legal status is considered exploitation in any language,” Attorney General Greg Zoeller said. “It’s important that foreign nationals who wish to follow the law and get their immigration paperwork in order not be deceived by fraudsters motivated by fees who are unqualified to give proper advice.”

The suits were filed March 9. One is in Allen Circuit Court against Evelyne O. Casiano, who has been doing business as United Hispanic Caring Hearts in Fort Wayne; the second suit is in Marion Superior Court against M. Esther Barber, also known as Maria Esther Tapia Cuevas, who was doing business as Asociación Civica Mexicana De Indiana Inc.

The Fort Wayne suit alleges that Casiano operated as a “notario publico” since 2008, and two consumers paid her for services such as selecting, completing, and filing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services forms for them. Although Casiano claimed to be an “assistant to an attorney,” the suit says that no such relationship existed. One customer who complained of paying thousands of dollars in fees for legal assistance now faces deportation proceedings as a result of Casiano’s actions, according to AG spokesman Bryan Corbin.

In the Indianapolis case, the lawsuit alleges that Barber has advertised herself to the Spanish-speaking community as someone who can assist with immigration issues and since 2006 she has allegedly done similar selection, preparation, and completion of USCIS immigration forms for a fee.

Both lawsuits allege the defendants knowingly violated the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act by providing services without the required license and training, and the suits seek injunctions against Barber and Casiano to prevent them from advising consumers about immigration policies or doing that type of work without first obtaining a license to practice law.

Each lawsuit also seeks consumer restitution for unlawfully obtained funds, civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each knowing violation, and up to $500 for each intentional violation of the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, as well as attorney fees.

kuzma-abigail-mug Kuzma

Separate from the civil consumer suit, the AG also used the office’s limited criminal jurisdiction to have a search warrant issued on Barber’s business and residence in Indianapolis as part of an investigation into possible tax offenses. Charges followed March 24 against Barber specifically, with the AG alleging she committed 10 counts of income tax evasion.

A probable cause affidavit shows Barber advertised her business services in Spanish-language newspapers and over time received at least $56,768 for tasks such as preparing immigration forms, business formation, and liquor licensing applications, but she filed no state income tax returns between 2005 and 2009.

The attorney general used a tax evasion legal maneuver known as the “Al Capone approach” which it has used three other times since late 2008 in cases concerning two commercial dog-breeding operations and another cash-and-carry stereo business. Those three cases ended with guilty pleas and felony tax-evasion convictions.

With these civil actions, Zoeller is trying to raise awareness about the larger issue of non-English speakers seeking immigration assistance from individuals called “notarios” who aren’t licensed to practice law but who might be assumed to be attorneys by the immigrant population. In the U.S., a notary public is a person certified to serve as a state-authorized witness for the notarization of documents. But in Spanish-speaking nations, the term “notario publico” can refer to an attorney with specialized training. Language barriers or misunderstandings might make immigrant clients more trusting of advice they receive from notaries here.

These suits are the first actions filed against “public notaries” since the December 2005 decision by the Indiana Supreme Court in State of Indiana ex rel. Indiana State Bar Assoc., et al. v. Ludy Diaz, 838 N.E.2d 433 (Ind. 2005), which specifically focused on this type of activity and determined it constituted the unauthorized practice of law.

Abby Kuzma of the AG’s Consumer Affairs Office, formerly with the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic that provides immigration-related legal services similar to those at issue in the current cases, said these are directly on point with what happened in the Diaz case. The only difference is that Diaz was first and set the stage to decide that this kind of activity is, in fact, UPL.

“There’s an opportunity that they’re finding to take advantage of people, or in our lingo, consumers that want to legally improve their immigration situation,” Kuzma said. “They go to these individuals and think they’re seeking assistance from someone who is qualified to provide those services, and that’s the problem because they’re not.”

Immigration law is very complex, Kuzma said, and it’s dangerous to have non-lawyers trying to tackle these issues without proper licensing, training, or knowledge of the system.

“People can be much worse off than before, and their legal options can be put in danger because of this,” she said. “Ask any immigration lawyer in town, and you’ll hear that they spend a lot of time analyzing cases where previous immigration cases and situations have been damaged by people providing this type of assistance. It’s almost like a whole subset of immigration law practice.”

In Indianapolis, attorney Angela Adams with Lewis & Kappes said that’s a common element of her practice despite the guidance that Diaz offered to the legal community and public. She said attorneys regularly try to educate the public about these issues and explain the difference between a “notario” in the U.S. versus what that term means in Latin American countries. She is pleased to see the current action trying to address the problem.

“It is good to see that the attorney general is taking this issue seriously and is concerned about protecting the rights of a vulnerable population,” she said. “It sends a strong message that unauthorized practice of law will not be tolerated in our state.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  2. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  3. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  4. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  5. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

ADVERTISEMENT