SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna announced three settlements on Tuesday involving individuals who are allegedly not qualified to provide legal advice to immigrants.
McKenna's office said that immigration law is one of the most complicated areas in the legal field because a lack of proper research into applicable law prior to submitting an application or missing a deadline can cause an immigrant to lose his or her legal status and potentially face deportation.
While the settlements don't require an admission or finding of wrongdoing, the defendants did agree to restrictions on their business practices.
David Carl Williams allegedly provided legal advice and placed advertisements comparing his services to those provided by an attorney. As part of the settlement, Williams agreed to pay $3,000 in civil penalties, $3,000 to reimburse the state for legal costs and attorneys' fees and $2,500 in consumer restitution.
EC New Horizons, Maurice Terry and Edwin Cruz allegedly used misleading advertising and illegally entered into 480 agreements with customers to provide legal advice and prepare documents related to petitions for immigration benefits. Under terms of their settlement, the defendants agreed to pay $6,000 to reimburse the state for legal fees and attorneys' costs and to pay $2,000 in civil penalties. An additional $35,000 in civil penalties is suspended provided the defendants comply with the terms of the settlement.
Interlink Business Center LLC and John Manlee Ching allegedly provided legal advice to Chinese-speaking customers about immigration matters and failed to provide consumers with a written contract containing important consumer disclosures as required by state law. The defendants agreed to pay $50,000 in civil penalties and $10,000 to reimburse the state for attorneys' fees and legal costs. An additional $17,500 in civil penalties is suspended provided Ching complies with the terms of the settlement.
Earlier this year, McKenna's office requested a bill, recently approved by the legislature, that changed state law regarding immigration services. The bill cracks down on the use of the term "notario," eliminates the ability to file as an "immigration assistant" with the state and imposes additional legal consequences for making false representations about being skilled in immigration law.
Nonprofit organizations, law school clinics and individuals authorized to provide immigration services under federal law aren't impacted.
Officials said that the new legislation, combined with outreach and education efforts, will help prevent consumer harm.