Ex-immigration lawyer sued for defrauding hundreds of clients

San Francisco, California City Attorney Dennis Herrera last month filed a lawsuit against Martin Resendez Guajardo for corruption, fraud, unlawful business practices and false representation, among other allegations. The complaint details a pattern of corrupt practices, in which the former attorney defrauded clients of their savings, but whose negligent handling of the cases often resulted in adverse rulings and deportations.

The prosecutor's lawsuit seeks to fine Resendez Guajardo civil penalties of up to $$2,500 for each violation, disgorgement of all profits made, and restitution to the victims.

Hundreds of immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area who had trusted Resendez Guajardo for years were not only defrauded of thousands of dollars by the former immigration attorney, but are now living with the uncertainty of not knowing what has happened to their cases.

For 3 decades, Resendez Guajardo practiced immigration law. But faced with numerous complaints and reports of fraud, exorbitant and excessive fees, negligence in the legal representation of his clients, and facing serious disciplinary charges, he resigned before being disbarred from the California Bar in 2008. With his resignation, he was barred from practicing law. He also agreed to inform his clients of his resignation.

However, Resendez Guajardo did not comply with the terms of his waiver. He never advised his clients that he was no longer authorized to practice law and continued to offer legal services under the firm Immigration Practice Group, with the assistance of attorney Christopher Stender, continuing his practice of charging large sums of money, and doing little work on cases, to the point of even putting the immigrants he represented at risk of deportation. Mark Silverman, Director of Immigration Policy for the Immigration Legal Resource Center told a patch.com reporter that he found instances where Resendez Guajardo charged his clients $60,000 and $70,000 for work that is normally charged at $6,000 or $10,000.

In addition to the attorney's lawsuit, the firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all clients Resendez Guajardo has represented or advised since his resignation from the bar. Through this legal action the firm seeks restitution and reparations for the victims, recovery of damages, attorneys' fees, and civil penalties.

This case is truly deplorable, but it is a reminder that you should investigate and verify that the person to whom you are entrusting your immigration case is authorized by law to do so. It is also good to find out if the attorney has been sanctioned and why before hiring his services.

Since immigration law is federal, an immigration lawyer may practice throughout the United States as long as he or she is licensed in a state, territory, commonwealth, or commonwealth of the United States, or in the District of Columbia. Ask the lawyer where he or she is licensed. Once you know where, contact the bar association there to verify that his or her license to practice is current and to find out if the lawyer has been disciplined.

The U.S. Department of Justice publishes a new report on the updated list of sanctioned legal representatives. You may want to check to make sure that the person who is representing you or who you are considering hiring to represent you in immigration court is not on the list.

In addition, the American Bar Association (ABA) publishes a directory of offices responsible for disciplining attorneys nationwide. If you do not know the state where the lawyer is registered, you can contact the National Lawyer Regulation Data BankThe ABA's "Lawyer Referral Service" to request assistance. This is a paid service that offers to make inquiries about the attorney's background. To request this information, you may call (312) 988-5290. You will also be asked to confirm the request in writing.

In addition, you can report complaints of abuse by unscrupulous lawyers to the U.S. Department of Justice. Read more about how to do this. here.