Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (8th Senate District) and Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli (16th Assembly District) were joined by Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon as they announced new legislation (S1865/A5169) that would raise the penalties for impersonating an attorney to a class E felony.
"The reason that people hire attorneys is because attorneys are properly trained and educated in the practice of law and licensed by the State. When someone impersonates a lawyer, they are defrauding consumers who are entrusting vital personal affairs to them, such as a will, securing a title for a home, citizenship in the United States, or any other matter of the law," said Senator Fuschillo, who is the Chairman of the Senate’s Consumer Protection Committee. "By raising the penalties for impersonating an attorney, we will provide an increased deterrent for criminals who are out to scam our residents."
The legislation, which was jointly sponsored by Senator Fuschillo and Assemblyman DiNapoli, would raise the penalties for impersonating an attorney to a class E felony, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or up to 4 years imprisonment. This would make the penalty consistent with the punishment for unauthorized practice of a profession, which includes physicians, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, and certified public accountants. Under current law, the crime of illegally practicing law is only a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or up to 1 year in prison.
Assemblyman DiNapoli stated, "Impersonating a lawyer is a gross violation of public trust. The relationship between a lawyer and a client is private, sensitive, and confidential. Those who would destroy this professional trust through deception should be vigorously prosecuted, and I salute District Attorney Dillon for working with us to strengthen New York’s laws to better protect citizens seeking legal services."
"Based on our findings in a number of cases of abuse and fraud perpetrated upon immigrants by defendants who posed as lawyers, I recently requested that the New York State Legislature amend the Judiciary Law so as to elevate the crime of Unauthorized Practice of Law from a misdemeanor to a felony," said District Attorney Dillon. "We believe that passage of this legislation will enhance the protection of all residents of New York State from unscrupulous and unconscionable con artists who prey on the hopes and dreams of the unwary, citizen and non-citizen alike."
According to District Attorney Dillon, his office prosecuted 29 individuals over the past ten years who falsely held themselves out to be duly admitted attorneys and engaged in the practice of law without authorization. 13 of these defendants were disbarred or suspended attorneys who had continued to practice. Another defendant had actually taken the Bar exam and passed it, but never took the steps to apply for admission. 15 had no legal experience at all, and of these, 10 preyed up immigrants by pretending to be lawyers who could help their victims with their immigration status.
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