Decided: December 23, 2014
Non-Attorney: Mary E. Hernandez
Misconduct: Unauthorized Practice of Law
Citation: Disciplinary Counsel v. Hernandez, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-5486
Discipline: Injunction and civil penalty

The Supreme Court ordered Mary E. Hernandez of Cincinnati to stop engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and pay $15,000 in civil penalties as a result of “particularly heinous” fraud.

Ms. Hernandez distributed business cards bearing her name and “Hernandez Law.” The card indicated that she practiced criminal, family, juvenile and immigration law. Hernandez, however, is not licensed to practice law in Ohio or any other state.

Ms. Hernandez was approached by a man facing deportation who entered the U.S. in 1999. The man had three children who are U.S. citizens. He met with Ms. Hernandez to discuss his pending immigration matters, including a March 2011 hearing before the U.S. Immigration Court. Ms. Hernandez told the man she had a personal relationship with a high-level employee with U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) who would assist her with his case for a fee and that her personal and direct contacts with the judge, the governor, and an Ohio senator would also help.

Hernandez met with the man on several occasions. She informed him he did not need to attend the March 2011 hearing and presented him with documents pertaining to his case including:

  • An application for permanent residence;
  • A letter she claimed to have sent to the judge and her USCIS contact;
  • A forged letter purporting to be from the judge acknowledging receipt of paperwork; and
  • A letter detailing the breakdown of her fees.

Some of the documents identify Ms. Hernandez as the man’s lawyer.

The man became suspicious of Ms. Hernandez in February 2011. He called the immigration court directly and subsequently retained an attorney. Thank goodness – if he had followed Ms. Hernandez’s advice and failed to attend the hearing, he would have been deported.

Now knowing her misrepresentations, the man recorded conversations and caught Ms. Hernandez red-handed telling of her conversations with the judge and demanding more money. Ms. Hernandez threatened to have the man deported if he did not pay.

Although the Code of Federal Regulations permits non-lawyers to represent parties to immigration proceedings in certain limited circumstances, the Court found those circumstances not relevant because Hernandez falsely held herself out as a lawyer throughout her representation. See 8 C.F.R. 1292.1.

Ms. Hernandez’s “particularly heinous” fraud (including her advice to not attend the hearing that would have led to his deportation) resulted in an Order that Ms. Hernandez cease engaging in any further unauthorized practice and ordering her to pay a $15,000 fine. The Court also informed the man that he could seek other redress by filing a civil suit. See R.C. 4705.07(C)(2).