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Braunstein law aims to bust fake lawyers

TimesLedger Newspapers

Lawyers caught practicing without a license will now be charged with a felony, according to the northeast Queens official who originally introduced the bill.

Legislation introduced by state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) designed to crack down on fake lawyers victimizing New Yorkers was signed into law last week, upping the penalty from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony. The assemblyman said the tougher penalty should go on to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

“Over the past several years, there have been hundreds of complaints by immigrants who have been victimized by fraudulent attorneys,” Braunstein said. “No one should ever be forced to leave the country because of the practices of dishonest con artists claiming to be lawyers. By having this law signed, we are standing up for the rights of all New Yorkers to ensure that individuals receive proper legal assistance.”

For most state-licensed professions in New York, unlicensed practice constitutes a class E felony, Braunstein said. But under current law, unlicensed lawyers caught in the act would only receive a misdemeanor.

“When New Yorkers have legal problems, they deserve a real attorney. Unscrupulous individuals pretending to be lawyers often prey on immigrants and the poor,” said New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James Jr. “The consequences of their bad advice can be life-altering for their victims, resulting in jail time, loss of child custody, deportation and financial hardship.”

Now after Cuomo’s approval, Braunstein’s new law will increase the penalty of the unlicensed practice of law a felony as of Nov. 1, 2013.

“We have no tolerance for scam artists who pose as lawyers and deceive New Yorkers in need of legal help,” Cuomo said. “This new law will help hold accountable individuals who defraud New Yorkers by offering services they are not licensed to provide. I thank the bill sponsors for their efforts on this important legislation.”

State Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), who also sponsored the legislation, said phony lawyers deserved more severe punishment for victimizing the most vulnerable New Yorkers, such as immigrants.

“Someone who hires an attorney is paying and entrusting that attorney to carry out some of their most important personal and financial wishes, such as buying or selling their home or creating a will,” Fuschillo said. “Scam artists who pose as licensed attorneys and jeopardize these important matters should face tougher penalties. I applaud Gov. Cuomo for approving this law which will help ensure that phony lawyers receive real punishment for defrauding consumers.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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