Herrera sues 'notorious predator' over unlicensed immigration law services
Case against Martin R. Guajardo seeks injunctive relief, civil penalties, and restitution to victims
SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 17, 2010) -- City Attorney Dennis Herrera today filed suit against a disgraced former lawyer for running an illicit immigration law practice that for more than two years defrauded clients and devastated the lives of the immigrants and family members who sought his counsel. Martin Resendez Guajardo is described as "one of San Francisco's most notorious predators" in Herrera's 21-page civil complaint, which details a shocking pattern of corrupt and deceptive business practices that fleeced clients of their life savings, and frequently resulted in adverse rulings, deportations and broken families. Also named in the complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court this morning are Christopher Stender, a licensed attorney alleged to have aided and abetted Guajardo's unauthorized law practice, and the Immigration Practice Group, P.C., the professional corporation Guajardo is believed to control.
Herrera's lawsuit alleges multiple violations of California's Unfair Competition Law by Guajardo, Stender, Immigration Practice Group, and potentially others. If successful, the case could result in civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation, disgorgement of all profits, restitution to victims and tough court-ordered injunctions. To immediately stop Guajardo and his colleagues from defrauding their immigrant clients, Herrera is also seeking a preliminary injunction to force them to immediately cease their unauthorized practice of law and to notify their clients that Guajardo is no longer a lawyer.
"Martin Guajardo has made a career of preying on the vulnerable, robbing countless immigrants of their assets, their families, and their hopes to share in the American dream," said Herrera. "After decades of discipline and suspensions for being an unscrupulous lawyer, Guajardo finally resigned from the legal profession in 2008. But his law practice continued, with the help of co-conspirators. Through our lawsuit today, we're seeking an immediate halt to Guajardo's exploitation of immigrants in San Francisco, and to deliver a measure of justice that his victims have been too long denied. I am very grateful to a number of City leaders and nonprofit organizations without whose help we could not have filed as strong a case today. In particular, I want to thank Supervisor David Campos for his advocacy and leadership together with the Asian Law Caucus, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and others. I am also thankful to the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for the parallel class action suit they filed this morning on behalf of Guajardo's victims."
"Martin Guajardo may be the worst offender, but he's a cautionary reminder that there are others like him who similarly prey on immigrants and their families," said Supervisor David Campos. "As important as this lawsuit is to stop Mr. Guajardo from causing further harm, it's equally important that the immigrant community here in San Francisco be fully informed about the community based organizations and reputable law firms that can represent their interests effectively and honestly. The City Attorney's Office is obviously prohibited from representing individuals. That's why I'm so appreciative to City Attorney Herrera -- not just for filing this lawsuit, but for bringing together advocacy organizations like the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Asian Law Caucus, and others to join in today's announcement. I'm also grateful to the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for their lawsuit against Martin Guajardo, which does represent Guajardo's victims as class action plaintiffs."
During the three decades he was licensed to practice law in California, Martin Guajardo lured clients into paying exorbitant fees for his legal services with empty promises of favorable outcomes and extravagant assurances about his connections in government agencies. His often desperate clients typically had family members in immigration custody, or were immigrants themselves facing imminent deportation. But Guajardo was negligent and even fraudulent in his legal representation, often doing little or nothing on cases, providing flawed legal advice, and filing multiple rounds of meritless appeals to further inflate his legal fees. The subject of numerous complaints to the State Bar, Guajardo's license to practice law was suspended twice in the 1990s, and he was frequently upbraided by the courts in which he appeared for his substandard work. After repeated disciplinary actions against him and with charges pending, Guajardo eventually resigned from the bar of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Soon thereafter, the Board of Immigration Appeals finally barred Guajardo from practicing before them. In 2008, with serious disciplinary charges pending against him, Guajardo resigned from the State Bar of California. The terms of Guajardo's resignation prohibited him from practicing law or representing himself as eligible to practice. He also agreed to inform his clients of his resignation from the legal profession, and to file an affidavit with the State Bar attesting he had done so.
Guajardo, however, honored none of these promises. Instead, he created the Immigration Practice Group, with the assistance of Stender and others, as a front for his illegal practice of law and his continued exploitation of desperate immigrants. As a result, Guajardo, Stender, and others continue to profit while the clients of Guajardo, Stender, and the Immigration Practice Group lose their life savings and face deportation and separation from their families due to poor legal representation.
Class-action lawsuit, services for victims
In conjunction with the City's lawsuit, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP has filed a class action on behalf of all clients that Guajardo has represented or advised since his resignation from the State Bar. The class action alleges Guajardo, Stender, Immigration Practice Group, and potentially others committed fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and other related causes of action. The Class seeks to recover general and statutory damages, civil penalties, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, restitution, and other relief for these victims. Orrick has established a telephone number that will facilitate multilingual contacts for immigrants and family members who were victims of Martin Guajardo or his firm. That number is (415) 773-4266.
The City and Orrick will be holding a free clinic for victims of immigration fraud, including victims of Guajardo and his law firm, Immigration Practice Group. Free and private consultations with immigration lawyers will be offered in several languages, including English, Spanish and Hindi. Fraud victims will also have the opportunity to meet privately with attorneys from the City Attorney's Office and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe to discuss their respective lawsuits. The clinic will be held on December 1, 2010 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Hastings College of the Law on 200 McAllister Street in San Francisco. For more information about this free clinic in several languages, interested parties may call (415) 773-4269.
The City's case is People of the State of California v. Martin R. Guajardo et al., San Francisco Superior Court No. CGC-10-505449, filed Nov. 17, 2010. Additional information about the case is available on the City Attorney's Web site at the following URL: http://www.sfcityattorney.org/. The Class Action lawsuit is Hernandez et al. v. Martin R. Guajardo et al., San Francisco Superior Court No. CGC-10-505450, also filed Nov. 17, 2010.
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