My thanks and appreciation to Dr. George Leef for pointing this case out to me. This is the first I’ve read of it, but Dr. Leef wrote (in response to my challenge to find out whether Nancy was the first person ever sent to jail for unauthorized practice of law by a jury):
“There is such a case. Ronald Lais was convicted in California and sentenced to a term (more than ten years, as I recall) in Folsom prison. The name of the case is Lais v. Barber. The last I heard, Mr. Lais was appealing his conviction to an appellate court.”
The reaction to this post has been very dramatic and interesting. So much, in fact, that I think I may delete any reference to Lais from this Blog, because it is becoming a major destraction. Apparently, many people felt “ill-served” by Lais (both when he was a lawyer and after he was disbarred). One commentator described him as a “wacky old coot….a stupid bomb.” Another wrote that “the state couldn’t go after him for anything” except unauthorized practice of law, but that he was REALLY a bad guy, and a “bully….” which is not exactly a criminal offense, as defective a personality as the word undoubtedly reflects. But it seems that the flurry of dispute about Lais is becoming a side show distracting from my real point: IS IT LEGITIMATE TO PROSECUTE ANYONE FOR VIOLATING A STATE-SPONSORED MONOPOLY ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH? If we asked the question: can any state impose a monopoly on religious worship, the answer would clearly be “no.” If a State were to pass judgment on who can be a Catholic or Episcopal Priest or a Baptist Pastor, everyone would immediately recognize that licensing would run afoul of the First Amendment. It doesn’t matter if even 1% of all Catholic Priests in history have buggered little boys (and I’m sure it’s not even 1/10 of 1% in fact), that’s no grounds or legal justification for letting the State determine “fitness” to be a Catholic Priest. And what if the Baptists got control of the Government and wanted to declare that any Priest, whether Irish Catholic or English Episcopalian, who had ever touched Champagne, Scotch whiskey, or Sherry, was forever banned from the pulpit and altar? We understand (most of us) that it would simply be an OUTRAGE for the State to interfere in the licensing of the preaching of the Gospel or the interpretation of the Torah or the Koran or the teachings of Buddha. So WHY do we allow licensing for the other prong of the First Amendment, namely Freedom of Speech regarding the meaning or interpretation or application of the law? And the right to petition for redress of grievances? And why do we entrust to JUDGES (who must decide the disputes raised by various legal interpretations and applications, or the grievances raised in various petitions) to be the ones who make the decision regarding licensing or disbarment of attorneys?
Ronald Lais may have been a fool, a buffoon, or just plain lazy and incompetent, but I for one know not dozens but well over a hundred truly lazy, incompetent AND SIMULTANEOUSLY FOOLISH AN STUPID lawyers (and that’s just me personally—I have heard stories regarding THOUSANDS of lazy, incompetent, stupid lawyers—never mind the corrupt and dishonest ones—and they all still HAVE their licenses).
So it may be time to bury the whole Ronald Lais controversy, because it is very different from my own personal history, from Nancy Grant’s history, and from Montgomery Sibley’s or Jack Thompson’s history.
For one thing, according to one commentator below, Mr. Lais had a BENCH rather than a jury trial to insulate himself from wrath. It should be noted that Nancy Jo Grant’s pre-sentencing report listed her victim impact level as ZERO. That’s right ZERO. But apparently, according to what I’m reading from the reaction of people in California, Ronald Lais was NO Nancy Jo Grant. I don’t know of a single soul who would ever speak a single word against Nancy, except for the prosecutors and judges against whom she has been fighting for decades, but at least half a dozen people have so far written against Ronald Lais. But I think that the difference between Nancy Jo Grant and Ronald Lais proves the stupidity and futility of prosecutions for unauthorized practice of law. Ronald Lais, if the people who have commented are correct, was a genuine crook. Genuine crooks, scammers, and scheisters can be prosecuted under the fraud and consumer protection laws whether they are licensed attorneys or not. In fact, I would argue that the lawyer’s monopoly protects the practice of law from greater scrutiny by careful consumers than individual attorneys would otherwise warrant. Ronald Lais was a licensed attorney, possibly, and based on what I’ve read even PROBABLY, a very BAD attorney. In a free market—he would be exposed and would fail—because there would be free competition. In a world where high school students were educated in the law before turning 18, consumers would be more savvy and sophisticated regarding the competence of lawyers. That is the world I want. Modern American High Schools teach NOTHING but social conformity and socio-cultural incompetence. Every high school student should graduate with the equivalent of a 1L education in the law—1L from Harvard or Yale—in every high school in the United States, and this should probably be a prerequisite for voting. But that’s probably best reserved for a topic in another post later.
So inconclusion, it sounds to me as though this Ronald Lais may have actually gone to jail for a lot more than “merely” unauthorized practice of law—it sounds like the State may have had a lot of other things against him, but regardless, the stupidity of confusing licensing a monopoly with any guarantee of honesty reemphasizes the need for reform and restoration of the Free Enterprise System with regard to Freedom of Speech. The comments suggesting that Ronal Lais, whether a licensed attorney or not, may have been engaged in some of the worst abuses of the legal profession. So the world is a complex place: non-elite, non-attorney criminals will always outnumber the elite, licensed criminals who put Nancy Jo Grant in Jail. However, it is extremely and catastrophically wrong to put people in jail for thinking, writing, and speaking, when what they are merely doing is competing with a State-Authorized Monopoly….and I have to admit I just don’t know that much about Ronald Lais’ case and case history. And I personally believe that MOST people in Jail in the United States don’t actually belong there…..but since I don’t know their history, who knows? Maybe Ronald Lais would be one of the few that does…..
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Ex-Lawyer Faces Sentencing for Unauthorized Practice
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A former attorney who now bills himself as a legal consultant faces sentencing Friday in Orange Superior Court on 25 felony counts of practicing without a license.
Ronald Lais, 63, was convicted on 25 of what were originally 29 counts last July. Judge William R. Froeberg heard the case without a jury and will preside over the sentencing.
Froberg rejected Lais’ contention that his involvement in child custody and other family law matters does not constitute the practice of law, since he was merely assisting and advising other lawyers.
The verdict “was not a close call,” the judge said in announcing the verdict, finding that Lais continued to practice law while he was out of custody and awaiting trial and that he took “the lion’s share” of fees earned by the attorneys he was allegedly assisting.
Lais practiced law in Orange County for a number of years, but resigned from the State Bar with charges pending in 2001. A Western State University law graduate admitted in 1976, Lais received a 90-day suspension in 1999 and a two-year suspension in 2000.
The suspensions were for ethical violations involving multiple clients, including failing to return unearned fees, failing to report sanctions, and attempting to mislead sheriff’s deputies who were trying to enforce an order granting custody to the ex-spouse of Lais’ client by presenting them with a superseded former order granting custody to the client.
The State Bar reported that at the time of his resignation, Lais faced 43 disciplinary counts in eight separate cases. “For the most part, the allegations charge failure to perform legal services competently or refund unearned fees and numerous instances of moral turpitude,” the State Bar reported on its Web site.
Lais told the MetNews yesterday that he has not practiced law since resigning, but is “an international child custody and divorce expert and consultant” who has worked in 40 countries and “in almost every state” in the United States. “I’ve never had any problems anywhere except Orange County, California,” he said.
The only jurisdiction in which he can now practice law, he said, is India. While non-citizens of that country normally cannot get licenses, Lais said, he was able to do so in 1999 through the aid of a politically connected individual whom he had assisted in a custody matter.
His conviction, Lais said, is the result of “a general disagreement about what I can do and what I can’t do” as a consultant/expert. He declined to predict what might happen on Friday, but said he was hopeful the judge, whom he praised as a fair-minded individual, would be willing to consider more than the “snippet” of evidence that was presented at the trial.
Lais also hinted at an appellate strategy, calling the unauthorized practice statute “vague and ambiguous,” and adding that it is unfair that “if a layperson does the same thing, it’s a misdemeanor, and if a resigned lawyer does it, it’s a felony.”
The ex-lawyer added that he was offered an opportunity to resolve the case with a misdemeanor plea if he would pay restitution and close down his business, which he conducts under the name Child Custody Legal Network. He turned it down as “a matter of principle,” he said, because it “would have prevented him from working at what I do best.”
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company