CA Woman Sentenced for Pretending to be an Attorney
Miranda Devlin, 37, was just sentenced to 18 months in prison for fraud by U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney in San Francisco.
“I can swear on a stack of Bibles that I have taken the bar exam, I have passed the bar exam,” she told a local California newspaper, The Marin Independent Journal, after her arrest at the County Courthouse.
But of course, passing the bar exam alone doesn’t make you a lawyer. Potential attorneys must also be deemed fit on moral character grounds and so while Devlin, did in fact pass the California Bar Exam in 2013, she was one of the few to be rejected on moral grounds.
She had prior theft and fraud-related convictions in state court, including a felony about 10 years before she finished her legal training via the Law Office Study Program, a California apprenticeship-based alternative to law school, under the supervision of her then-husband in 2010.
After being found unfit by the bar, Devlin practiced law without a license, admitting to stealing the identities – and in one case, even paying the bar dues for – two other attorneys who shared her first name “Miranda”. Her clients included two men facing child molestation charges and one found guilty of attempted rape.
Devlin pleaded guilty to mail fraud (she submitted an online change-of-address form for one of the Mirandas so that her bar card would forward to Devlin), as well as fraudulently obtaining a $32,700 paycheck protection program loan in one of the other Miranda’s name. She was also ordered to pay $565,355 in restitution.
“Ms. Devlin has no valid excuse to offer the court for her criminal conduct. She made terrible decisions that caused serious harm to many persons and entities,” her lawyer, Mark Goldrosen, wrote in her sentencing memorandum. He also noted that she has started mental health counseling and is a devoted mother to four daughters, ages 16, 15, 9 and 5.
The case has highlighted California’s character and fitness requirement for incoming attorneys.
Overall, less than 1% of California State Bar applicants are denied admission each year for failing the fitness and character assessment.
However some have argued that the character requirement has the potential to adversely impact certain groups. For example, the U.S. Justice Department in 2014 entered into a settlement with the Louisiana Supreme Court for denying bar admission based on “mental health diagnosis and treatment rather than conduct that would warrant denial of admission to the bar,” a potential violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Amy Nuñez, the Director of the State Bar of California’s Office of Admissions, says “Lawyers occupy a unique position of power and trust with clients, may have access to significant funds that are due to clients and are considered officers of the court,” she said via email. “It is important that bars assess, based on the available information at the time, whether there are any issues that suggest a potential lawyer may not be fit to meet these responsibilities.”
Every bar association in the country conducts character reviews, Nuñez states, noting that California in 2020 published revised guidelines for its moral character determinations with the aim of providing greater uniformity, consistency and transparency. The goal is to “ensure that the State Bar gives appropriate consideration for rehabilitative efforts undertaken by applicants,” she said.
You can read more about this case here.
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