California Ex-Lawyer Sentenced to Jail (A California UPL Case)

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…..

Metropolitan News-Enterprise 

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

4 responses to “California Ex-Lawyer Sentenced to Jail (A California UPL Case)

  1. Best to not to compare one to Ron Lais

    or Gary Karpin,

    if you want any kind of sympathy.

  2. Ron Lais Victim Number 501

    Ron Lais in your prayers? Are you crazy? the number of his victims is….still counting.

    From the Orange County Register.

    Thursday, July 21, 2005

    Ron might be more charmin’ if he got a dog
    The real crime was staring me in the face.

    Register columnist

    The News
    I got to thinking more about the Peter Yarrow’s anti-bullying program I wrote about yesterday, and that got me thinking about how I’ve been writing about the Ron Lais case in completely the wrong context.
    Lais is charged with multiple felony counts of pretending to be an attorney, which clients say led to mishandled child-custody cases and the loss of thousands of dollars in fees. That’s what he’s being prosecuted for.
    But when you communicate one-on-one with the accusers, their anger seems focused just as much, if not more, on something there’s no law against: being a bully.
    Some were single mothers with little money. When they finally got fed up with Lais’ handling of their cases and started asking for their money back, the Charmin’ Ron disappeared, they said. He bullied them, they said, by throwing his superior legal knowledge in their faces, picked on them personally, and sued or threatened to sue for defamation. Here’s an e-mail he sent Rachel Seagrave in response to one of hers. Imagine getting this from your lawyer:
    “Rachel: This is the kind of crap you continue to generate. You just don’t get it, do you? We have a lot of very happy clients, all of whom have paid us $5,000.00! Get a life besides having more children than you apparently can afford. There will never be a refund. We performed the services, whether you want to admit that or not. Ron Lais.”
    Italics mine. Lais said he only sent that e-mail after getting nasty ones from her. Perhaps. But after hearing similar stories about Lais on other, unrelated, cases, I’m seeing a trend. Seagrave might have the last laugh, though. She testified against him last week.

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    Even 14 years doesn’t wipe smile off Lais

    Register columnist

    Judge Wm. Froeberg’s courtroom seats around 100, and I’d guess it was a third full Friday afternoon for the sentencing of Charmin’ Ron Lais, the ex-lawyer who couldn’t quit.
    Most were Lais victims, but a few were his family members, gathered in a somber little clump to one side.
    Lais, wearing a taupe blazer over a blue-and-white striped shirt open at the collar, pushed his chair back a few feet from the defense table so he could comfortably lean back and cross his long legs, a leisurely posture he held to the end.
    It began with a parade of Lais victims coming to the microphone, most recounting how they’d hired him to help in a child-custody case, paid him thousands in fees and got little in return.
    Lais, they said, would start off exceedingly friendly, sometimes inappropriately so – two women said he came on to them. But at some point, as the case dragged on, he would ask for more money, and when they started to complain, he’d turn nasty, often threatening and suing them.
    They never knew he wasn’t licensed to practice until they’d forked out a lot of money. Most were of modest means.
    A woman named Johnnie Snow said Lais worked for her son, a U.S. soldier in Europe who was trying to get custody of his children through the German courts. Lais’ constant push for fees devastated the family, forcing Snow to sell her mother’s home and a car.
    Lais, she said, lied about having an office in Germany and experience in German courts. He talked the Snows into paying his way to Germany, charged them $1,500 per diem and then spent much of the time at Oktoberfest. When he finally met with them one day, he passed out drunk on a couch in the middle of the afternoon, she said.
    Of course, he also botched the case.
    That was only the first story, and there were a lot more. Anaheim City Councilman Richard Chavez, who had once hired Lais, said, “My heart tells me he is sitting here today trying to figure out how to get even, because that’s what he does best.”
    That lack of remorse came up over and over. Prosecutor Jeff Winter, in his summation, talked about the “high degree of callousness” Lais showed toward people who were at their most vulnerable.
    Then it was Lais’ turn, and he did little to help himself. For 37 minutes he spoke, never admitting he did a thing wrong, only expressing regret that his former clients somehow believed he had.
    “To have people feel that somehow children were harmed by my conduct is troubling,” he said at one point, as a collective desire swept through the courtroom to stick one’s index finger down one’s own throat.
    Finally, Froeberg told him, “Wrap it up, it’s getting kind of late,” which Lais did with minimal further blathering.
    To that point, Froeberg had given us little clue as to what he would do. If you added up all 25 counts, Lais was eligible for about 20 years in prison. But he also was a non-violent offender with no criminal history, so he was eligible for probation. Winter and the Probation Department had recommended six to eight years in prison. I was guessing he’d get two or three.
    How Froeberg was leaning slowly became apparent as he started reading aloud from a 21/2-page summary that identified each of the victims by name, how much money they gave Lais and what, if anything, he had done for them. The list was 16 victims long, and Froeberg read it with little inflection or emotion, letting the enormity of it speak for itself. Ms. Monroe… Ms. Seagrave… Mr. Snow… and on and on. The majority had lost between $3,000 and $10,000, although one guy had given Lais $108,000.
    The litany of victims read, Froeberg said, “There are few situations in life where people are as desperate as they are in child-custody issues.”
    Lais, he said, recommended “legal actions that were futile, contrary to the law and exposed his clients to penal as well as monetary sanctions.” He also noted that Lais continued even after being told not to by the Bar and while facing charges. Lais, he concluded, was “incapable of ceasing his illegal activities.”
    I’m guessing that at this point, even the delusionally optimistic Lais was beginning to grasp what was about to happen. But he sat there, totally composed, just as he did six weeks earlier when Froeberg had found him guilty, joining his hands to form a pyramid in a way that Erika once so sweetly noted was also characteristic of “Harry Potter’s sinister nemesis, Lord Voldemort.”
    Froeberg noted that if he imposed the recommended sentence, it would only reflect punishment for some of the charges. Then, in the most poignant and telling moment of the hearing, Froeberg turned to Winter and asked, “Which victims do you suggest I tell (that they won’t be accounted for)?”
    The prosecutor just shrugged. There was no good answer.
    With that, Froeberg started parsing the individual counts and sentences related to each, his discretion assisted by state guidelines. It was flying by so fast, I couldn’t keep up, but when the judge was done he summed it up: 14 years.
    Behind me, I could hear at least one victim weeping.
    A bailiff stepped forward and snapped handcuffs on Lais and stood him up. Just before he was taken away, another bailiff said something to him I couldn’t hear, and Lais said something in response I also couldn’t hear – but I could see him flash the bailiff that big smile of his. Charmin’ Ron to the very end.


  3. What’s clear is apparently your feelings for what happened to you significantly colored your ability for rational thought concerning the unauthorized practice of law.

    Your writings on the State of California against Ronald Lais are completely, utterly and factually wrong at every level.

    1. Lais opted for a bench trial. So your thanks to the doctor for pointing out the case were wrong because Lais was too smart to opt for a jury trial. He would have been convicted in a nano-second.

    Also, Lais had a history of suing former clients…and representing himself on behalf of his corporation, which the state dissolved for non-payment of taxes. (The records you quote were wrong. Lais has one current case against a former client. In spite of being declared vexatious).

    2. Lais was convicted of twenty-four felony counts of the unauthorized practice of law. In that he continued ripping people off on line both after posting bail, delaying trial for four years and then continued practicing law for three months *Post* conviction but before sentencing; meant he was also eligible for sentencing enhancement under “crime – bail – crime.” Which he got.

    However, your assumption about Lais was incorrect. Specifically, you wrote:

    ” it sounds to me as though this Ronald Lais may have actually gone to jail for more than “merely” unauthorized practice of law—it sounds like the State may have been other things against him, but regardless,”

    “May?” “But regardless?!?”

    The State had nothing else on Ronald Lais, or he would have been charged.

    However because the fact pattern doesn’t square with your feelings, feelings which you cannot separate from reality; so wrapped up in your own situation (as you also wrote the very telling, “BUT regardless” (emphasis mine).

    You completely discount the victims of Lais’ crimes and their ripple effect which continues to impact their family life, to this day.

    I attended the sentencing hearing. The prosecutor did not object to the 4-6 year sentence recommended by the Probation Department and defense counsel, which likewise favorably said Lais was not a danger to society.

    Fortunately, the judge had the sense to disagree.

    The judge correctly surmised no matter what, Ronald Lais would not stop practicing law.

    (Indeed, on his prison mail now three years later he writes “attorney” after his name. So the his delusion continues).

    But I digress.

    Lais was and is and probably will remain a danger to society. He is 6’4″ and has threatened (in an email no less) to hunt me down, kick the ass of his former appellate attorney and most sickening, also threatened the family of David Palmer, who runs the the website – as Dave got Lais’ con artist ways in the Wall Street Journal.

    In short, the guy is a bully. Lais sued me about five times. But he made two mistakes.

    The first being I don’t bully well.
    The second being I was smart enough to retain competent counsel, M. David Meagher, Esq., a SLAPP specialist in California, who happens as an Ex-Marine (if there is such a thing) to take out bully’s pretty easily.

    The Lais case is neither about freedom of speech or a “monopoly” on “free enterprise.”

    Your writing:

    “to put people in jail for thinking, writing, and speaking, when what they are merely doing is competing with a State-Authorized Monopoly”

    comparing Lais to your situation is so far off-base as to not be rational.

    Lais is in prison not for thinking, writing, and speaking…in opposition to a state authorized monopoly. He’s in prison because he’s a con artist.

    Please also know Lais’ record as a practicing attorney Before he was forced to resign, was so lousy, he managed to get his Clients arrested.

    So the gripe of Lais victims should have been more properly directed towards the State Bar of California for moving at glacial speed.

    Had the State Bar acted sooner, the tally of Lais victims wouldn’t have been quite so long.

    However, as it seems you are so set on your particular agenda you are willing to close your eyes to this con artist; using typical lawyer weasel like phrases, “regardless” and “but” to make a point; instead reveals a man possibly wronged, now grasping at straws.

    I suggest you delete everything about Lais, start over and try again. But only if you want any kind of credibility.

  4. Lais called me in 2003 ranting into the phone like a lunatic while I was taking my ex wife Phyllis Haupert to court to get her to visit her kids that I was awarded custody of in 1998. It seemed that her boyfriend Nicholas Grabowsky refered Lais to Phyllis during this time I was taking her to cout to not only visit her kids, but also for non payment of child support.
    One of the many confused lawyers sent obviously by Lais had no clue as to what they were in the court room for, and one stated to me that he has yet to be paid by Lais for his services.
    Lais would send in lawyers to the family court for Phyllis Haupert, who were auto injury attorney’s, real estate attorney’s, anything but a family c ourt attorney.
    Ron Lais is just a wacky old coot who should be sent to Iraq as a stupid bomb, and let them deal with this moron.

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