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New York immigration lawyer gets $1 million malpractice penalty

A Morningside Heights, New York, immigration attorney has been ordered to pay $1 million dollars in civil penalties after being accused of botching an immigration case. The man's client, a Venezuelan native, was reportedly left in immigration detention for more than one year as the case played out.

The Venezuelan man alleged in the legal malpractice suit that the attorney let a paralegal friend use his credentials to get her own clients under the guise of a real law office. The man said he believed he was represented by the attorney, when in fact he was represented by his paralegal friend who was not qualified to take the case.

The attorney has denied the allegations and has said he plans to appeal. He says that the paralegal would do his client's paperwork, but that he would appear in court himself as the lawyer and that his client was aware of this arrangement.

The Venezuelan man had come to the attorney for help after he overstayed a tourist visa. He was set to marry an American woman and he needed to get his immigration status in order. The man says that his legal counsel told him not to attend a Newark court hearing. But after he did not attend, he was ordered to be deported. The lawyer said that the client made his own decision not to attend the hearing.

The man ended up spending more than 400 days in jail and he lost his job after his work permit was revoked. After he was released, the federal government ruled that he had the right to stay in the country.

Trust and communication are vital to an attorney-client relationship. When someone hires a lawyer, he or she has the right to expect that the lawyer is competent and meets the standards of practice. When a lawyer has failed to act professionally and competently, the consequences can be dire. Clients of such lawyers have the right to legal recourse.

Source: New York Daily News, "Immigration lawyer slapped with $1 million civil penalty," Erica Pearson, March 30, 2012

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