Legal Blog

Halling | Meza LLP Wins a Quiet Title Judgment On Behalf of a Member of the Armed Forces and Obtains Cancellation of Dozens of Fraudulent Deeds

June 4, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

 

Halling | Meza LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of an active member of the United States military to quiet title and remove dozens of fraudulent deeds and a deed of trust from property he owned.  While serving overseas, the client had leased his home to a tenant who agreed to pay the mortgage and taxes and to maintain the property.  The tenant made several mortgage payments and then defaulted.  Unbeknownst to the soldier, the home went into foreclosure.  In an effort to stall the foreclosure the tenant created and recorded fraudulent deeds purporting to convey fractional interests in the property to fictitious persons and business entities.  The tenant then caused bankruptcy petitions to be filed in the name of the fictitious parties.  Under the Bankruptcy Act those petitions triggered an “automatic stay” of the foreclosure.

Investigation revealed that the tenant was involved in a countywide foreclosure rescue scam whereby, for a fee of $1,500 per month, she and others would have homeowners who were facing foreclosure sign deeds transferring interests to fictitious persons.  Bankruptcy petitions were filed in the names of the fictitious persons triggering the automatic stay and stopping the foreclosures.  This scam involved approximately 1,400 properties and outstanding loans of $725,000,000.  The perpetrator of the fraud was convicted of bankruptcy fraud prior to trial.

Our client learned of the foreclosure when he applied for credit for the purchase of a vehicle.  The client then listed the home for sale but a title insurance policy could not be obtained due to the existence of the fraudulently recorded documents. The title officer at USA National Title Insurance Company called the scam “probably the worst case of uninsured/erroneous deeds I’ve ever seen.”

Halling | Meza LLP filed suit to quiet title in the property to the homeowner and to cancel the fraudulent deeds.  Service of process was effected by substituted service and by publication.  A Notice of Pendency of Action (Lis Pendens) was recorded against the property and we obtained a suspension of the foreclosure.  A Disclaimer of Interest was obtained from a lender on an alleged second mortgage.  Halling | Meza LLP obtained an early setting for trial and judgment was entered at trial in favor of our client, quieting title to the property and canceling the fraudulent deeds.  The judgment has been recorded and the title insurance company has confirmed it will issue a clean title policy to a new buyer.

 

 Photo source: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

PrintFriendlyShare

Sergio Garcia, an Undocumented Worker, Can Practice Law In California

February 18, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

 

Sergio Garcia’s parents brought him to the United States from Mexico nearly two decades ago. He’s been waiting for a green card ever since.

But there’s one thing the undocumented immigrant no longer has to wait for, according to a California Supreme Court ruling on Thursday: his law license.

Garcia can be admitted to California’s state bar and legally practice as a lawyer there, the court ruled.

The landmark case quickly caught the eye of activists on both sides of the national immigration debate.

Garcia, 36, says his American dream has finally come true.

“With tears in my eyes I’m happy to report I am being admitted to the bar, thank God!” he said in a Facebook post Thursday after the court’s ruling. “This one is for all of you who dare to dream and by doing so change the world! Love you all! History was made today!”

But the case raises many questions, particularly among those who have been critical of Garcia’s efforts to practice law.

“How is Garcia supposed to uphold ‘the laws of the United States’ when he is, by his mere presence in this country, in violation of federal law?” CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette asks in an opinion column he wrote on the case in September. “How does he pledge to show respect for ‘the courts of justice’ when, for most of his life, he has lived here in defiance of the rule of law? And how can he claim that he won’t ‘mislead’ a judge or judicial officer when living in the United States illegally requires deception on a daily basis?”

California’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that no state law or public policy should stop Garcia or others like him from obtaining a law license in the state.

Immigration officials would be unlikely to pursue sanctions against an undocumented immigrant who had been living in the United States for years, had been educated in this country, and whose sole unlawful conduct was his presence in this country, the court said in a unanimous ruling written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

“Under these circumstances, we conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the State Bar,” the court ruled.

Garcia was born in Mexico in 1977 and taken to California by his parents when he was 17 months old, according to court documents.

He remained there until 1986, when he and his parents returned to Mexico. Eight years later, at age 17, Garcia again returned to California with his parents and without documentation, though his father had obtained permanent resident status in the United States.

That year, Garcia’s father filed an immigration visa petition on his son’s behalf, which federal immigration officials accepted in 1995. But, 19 years later, the visa has not been granted, even though Garcia has lived in the state since 1994.

“Because the current backlog of persons of Mexican origin who are seeking immigrant visas is so large, as of the date of this opinion — more than 19 years after Garcia’s visa petition was filed — a visa number still has not become available for Garcia,” the Supreme Court’s ruling said.

The ruling marks the end of a lengthy legal battle for Garcia, who received a law degree from Cal Northern School of Law in 2009.

That year, he passed the California bar exam.

For about two weeks, Garcia was sworn in as an attorney. Then he received a notice from the state bar that his admission was in error.

“It was very, very hard for me to have to tell my family that the celebration we had meant nothing,” Garcia told CNN en Español in September. “It killed me inside to tell them that I really wasn’t a lawyer.”

 

The matter ended up in the California state court system, and Garcia earned the support of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who wrote in a 2012 brief: “Admitting Garcia to the bar would be consistent with state and federal policy that encourages immigrants, both documented and undocumented, to contribute to society.”

The state bar argued that Garcia had met all of California’s requirements for a law license.

“With today’s ruling, the California Supreme Court reaffirms the Committee of Bar Examiners’ finding as not a political decision but rather one grounded in the law,” California State Bar President Luis J. Rodriguez said in a written statement Thursday.

Critics have argued that giving Garcia a license wouldn’t make sense. How can someone without legal status become licensed as a lawyer, whose job entails upholding the law?

Larry DeSha, former prosecutor for the State Bar of California, said Garcia shouldn’t be given his law license because his immigration status would be in violation of a civil immigration statute and could affect his ability to represent his clients.

“In the immigration debate, we must separate the individual from the idea. The individual — Garcia — looks like a keeper. The idea — that one who has lived most of his life outside the law can practice law — is problematic,” Navarrette wrote in his September column.

The executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter immigration restrictions, said the case is part of a troubling trend.

“The ruling that an unlawful immigrant can be admitted to the practice of law in California is the kind of thing that will light up talk-show switchboards, and rightly so. But beyond the Bizarro World nature of the decision is a broader issue,” Mark Krikorian wrote in an editorial published on the National Review’s website. “This is only the latest in a series of measures by some jurisdictions to normalize illegal immigration.”

The Obama administration originally opposed Garcia’s admission to the bar, saying that federal law demanded that legislation be enacted granting an undocumented immigrant the right to practice, according to a summary published by lawprofessors.typepad.com.

But the Justice Department backed off in November after California’s governor signed a new law that did just that.

The bill, which passed in October and went into effect this week, allows the bar to admit “an applicant who is not lawfully present in the United States (who) has fulfilled the requirements for admission to practice law.”

That “greased the skids” in making the court’s work easier, said Dan Kowalski, editor of Bender’s Immigration Bulletin and himself an immigration attorney.

“I think it’s a natural, logical decision,” he told CNN in a telephone interview, adding that he expected other states to follow suit.

Víctor Nieblas, an immigration attorney based in Southern California, told CNN in September that the court’s decision could affect hundreds of other young professionals in the United States who are seeking a license.

“He’s the first, but he’s not the only. There are cases going on in New York and Florida,” said Rina Gandhi, a third-year law student at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Gandhi, who heads an immigration law and service organization that invited Garcia to speak at her school last year, said the ruling is a positive step.

“I’m glad to see us moving forward in the right direction,” she said, adding that the case highlights the problems caused by backlogs in the country’s immigration system.

“He does have an immigration application pending,” she said. “It’s more a result of the broken immigration system that we currently have that he’s been waiting 19 years.”

Sergio Garcia was sworn in as a lawyer on the steps of the California capitol on February 1, 2014 by former California Supreme Court Judge Cruz Reynoso.

Sources – CNN and CBS Sacramento.

Photo credit: chicoer.com

PrintFriendlyShare

Is the Commercial Use of Drones In our Near Future?

February 7, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

 

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aircraft systems or unmanned aerial vehicles may sound intimidating — but the public should get used to this technology, because it’s not going anywhere.

“When you hear the word drone, you probably think of a large military weaponized system — something that’s capable of persistent surveillance. That’s just not what we are talking about,” said Ben Gielow, government relations manager and general counsel at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Arlington, Va.  As the aviation industry increasingly embraces drones, their commercial and civilian use will become more and more common in the next few years, according to a panel of experts at a recent American Bar Association conference on aviation and space law.

Unmanned aircraft come in all shapes and sizes, have thousands of uses, and can be purchased by your average person.  This area is growing and the technology is becoming less expensive.

A team at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop drones to deliver vaccines and medicines to remote locations and disaster zones. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has said it plans to use drones to watch for illegal activity among hunters. And a Domino’s franchise in the United Kingdom recently made news for delivering two pizzas using a drone. (We like ours with extra cheese and pepperoni!)

However, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to develop regulations for the commercial use of drones in the U.S. While the FAA allows the recreational use of airspace by model aircraft, the agency specifically excludes individuals or companies flying these aircraft for business purposes.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act, passed by Congress on Feb. 14, 2012, requires the agency to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system. The law gives the FAA specific deadlines to meet, including the crucial date of Sept. 30, 2015, by which time the FAA must allow for “the safe integration” of drones into the national airspace system.

While two drones have recently gained FAA certification for commercial use, the rest of the sector is stuck on the ground as the FAA works out its plans for integration.  Technological, regulatory, economic and public perception issues need to be resolved for the commercial use of drones to become routine.

While there is a lot of research into the issues related to the commercial operation of drones, at least 12 bills aimed at restricting the use of drones have been introduced in Congress this year.  Many are focused on the privacy issues.  In addition, there are real concerns regarding safety.  Crashes will sometimes happen, regardless of whether the drone’s operator is properly trained.  This may be a problem as most homeowners’ insurance and commercial liability policies include an aviation exception.  In addition, safety requirements are being discussed including the requirement for parachutes and sensors that shut the drone down when it comes close to objects.

Supporters of the commercial use of drones believe these aircraft can be beneficial.  They see the use of drones as having great promise. From a legal standpoint, interesting times are definitely ahead – not only in regards to the types of laws that will have to be written for such technology, but in the types of lawsuits it will most certainly bring.

Article Source:  ABA News Archive.
Photo Source: Don McCullough via Creative Commons

PrintFriendlyShare

California ADA Lawsuit Reform

January 15, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

The need to reduce frivolous litigation regarding alleged disability access violations at businesses had been a growing problem in California for years. Approximately 40% of all Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits in the nation are filed in California, while only 12% of the disabled population resides in the stat

Unfortunately it appears that a small group of plaintiff’s attorneys took advantage of the unique combination of California law with the federal ADA that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government services, commercial facilities, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.

This group of attorneys would look for disabled people as plaintiffs, send them to retailers and other public businesses, and see if they would find a violation of the accessibility requirements of the ADA. Lawsuits were filed for infractions as minor as a mirror being hung ½ an inch too high.

The typical demand was $4,000 (the minimum fine) plus an additional demand for attorneys’ fees ranging from $2,000 to $4,000. Many business owners would capitulate to the demands as it could be cheaper to pay the demands than to engage in litigation.

Senate Bill 1186, signed by Governor Brown on September 19, 2012, addressed some of the concerns and is designed to curb certain frivolous lawsuits. Features of this bill include:

  • Businesses have 60 days to fix an ADA violation, after receiving notice of the violation, if their facility was completed after January 1, 2008.  Businesses that don’t qualify for this benefit may qualify if they have obtained an inspection report from a Certified Access Specialist (CASp).

 

  • Statutory damages may be reduced from $4,000 to $1,000 when the violation is corrected.

 

  • Letters can still be sent to business owners alerting them of a violation or infraction, but “demands for money” letters from attorneys are now banned. Attorneys sending infraction letters are required to also send a copy of the letter to the California State Bar for review of compliance with the law.

 

  • Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees that have not had a CASp inspection will have 30 days to fix a violation, and can have their statutory damages reduced from $4,000 to $2,000.

 

 

Sources: California Business Properties AssociationWhite & Bright, LLP; Kring & Chung

 

PrintFriendlyShare

Taking Getting out of Jury Duty to the Extreme

November 14, 2013 Posted by Halling Meza

Many people try to get out of jury duty when they are called to serve. As a convicted felon who served his time, Erick Haubenstricker of Bay City Michigan could have easily avoided service simply by checking the YES box in question number 10 on his jury questionnaire. Instead the “information” he included on the document got him sent back to jail.

Apparently bitter about being summonsed as a potential juror, Haubenstricker wrote out a profanity laden rant all over the form, MLive.com reported.  And, as a result, he was sentenced to three days in jail for contempt of court.

Haubenstricker apologized to the court and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal contempt for writing such things as “Die in Hell” and “(Expletive) off dirty judges.” (He likely thought he was quite clever when he listed his phone number as 911-PIGS.)

Click here to see the juror form as a .pdf file. (Link provided by MLive.com)

Haubenstricker’s attorney, Paul F. Beggs, requested leniency. He pointed out that Haubenstricker did apologize and said that “Most people saw this as stupid rather than criminal.”

Bay County Circuit Judge Joseph K. Sheeran did not agree and told Haubenstricker that after reading his comments he was concerned that Haubenstricker might have a mental illness. After seeing that he was not ill Judge Sheeran stated that “… the people who work in this court have difficult enough jobs to do, and they don’t deserve to be treated as you treated them.”

We’re fairly confident that Haubenstricker has learned his lesson. We’re willing to bet that if he ever receives another juror questionnaire in the mail he will simply check YES to question number 10. And not list his phone number as 911-PIGS.

 

Photo credit: Chris Potter via Creative Commons.

Additional source: ABA Journal

PrintFriendlyShare

Small Firms, Big Clients

October 25, 2013 Posted by Halling Meza

More and more Fortune 500 companies are making the shift –at least partially- to smaller law firms. According to CounselLink, a legal software provider and a division of LexisNexis, overall legal billing has dropped from 26% down to 20% for the largest firms, while mid-size firms have increased their market share from 18% to 22%.

Why the switch?

One big reason is that smaller firms cost less. A lot less.

“The larger the firm, the higher the cost,” Don H. Liu, general counsel for Xerox, told The Wall Street Journal.  Liu helps keep costs in check by sending non-critical transactions to smaller firms. “Big firms don’t have a monopoly on talent,” he says.

In fact, many savvy companies know that a lot of money can be saved by hiring a mix of firms. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that it makes good financial sense to retain a big international firm for a crucial matter, such as a class-action lawsuit that puts the company’s reputation on the line, while hiring a small firm for smaller matters such as patent protection or small acquisitions.

In the Wall Street Journal article, Smaller Firms Grab Big Slice of Corporate Legal Work, Ronald S. Milstein, general counsel for Lorillard Inc., said, “Not everything is a bet-your-company kind of case, and not every case warrants the big guns from New York. Smaller firms – they want you more, they value you more.”

Of course quality matters as well.  Hiring a small firm to save money is no bargain if the quality of work is sub-standard.  Small firm lawyers without the protection and prestige of big firm names know they have to work harder and smarter to attract large corporate clients.

Another important factor, in fact what as viewed as the most important factor for working with a small firm, is building long-term trust-based relationships. In a recent survey by AdvanceLaw, nearly 60% of the general counsel polled stated that lawyers at the most elite law firms were less attentive to their concerns than those at other firms.

“Never count yourself out,” Cathy Lamboley, former senior vice president and general counsel for Shell Oil Company, told Kathleen Balthrop Havener in this American Bar Association article. While Lamboley was general counsel at Shell, 100% of Shell’s intellectual property work was handled through a firm with no more than eight or ten lawyers.  “If you’re comfortable with the lawyers and you know they can handle your work, nothing would stop a Fortune 500—or even a Fortune 50—company from hiring a small firm.”

 

PrintFriendlyShare

Halling | Meza LLP Represents Presidium Group, LLC in connection with its purchase of Oakwell Springs

October 16, 2013 Posted by HallingMezaLLP

 Halling | Meza LLP  represented Presidium Group, LLC in connection with its purchase of Oakwell Springs and its joint venture with Tryperion. This is Presidium Group’s second acquisition in San Antonio in less than a week following its acquisition of on the 81-unit Hunters Ridge apartments. We represented Presidium Group in connection with its acquisition of Hunters Ridge as well.

Tryperion Closes First San Antonio Buy

globest.com

Tryperion Partners, through its Real Estate Fund I LP, has entered the San Antonio area with it buy of the 252-unit Oakwell Springs apartments. The Los Angeles buyer teamed with Dallas-based Presidium Group on the buy, with plans to upgrade and… More

PrintFriendlyShare

Judge tells Ohio Man, “You’re still legally dead.”

October 15, 2013 Posted by Halling Meza

Nineteen years after being declared legally dead, 61-year-old Donald Eugene Miller Jr. wants his life back – or at least his social security number.

As recently reported in TheCourier.com, Miller, declared legally dead in 1994, eight years after he disappeared from his Arcadia rental home, appeared in court on Monday, October 7 requesting a reversal on the decision.

This sounds a lot like a treatment for a Leonardo DiCaprio movie.

Allan Davis, the same judge that declared him dead, ruled that Miller is still dead in the eyes of the law as there is a three-year legal limit for changing a death ruling.

Hmmm… perhaps someone should ask Judge Davis if there is some sort of legal time limit for common sense. (Or perhaps he’s used to seeing dead people.)

Miller, who told the court he was an alcoholic, stated that he was unsure what to do after losing his job, so he just walked away. (Seems pretty logical.)

“It kind of went further than I ever expected it to,” Miller said. “I just kind of took off, ended up in different places.” In Australia they call that a “walkabout.”

He asked the court to reverse the 1994 ruling so he can reinstate his Social Security number and driver’s license and start his life again, or “whatever’s left of it,” he stated.

His ex-wife, Robin Miller is opposed to overturning the death ruling as she would have to pay the Social Security benefits she received back to the federal government and does not have the means. She reported that Donald Eugene Miller owed her $26,000 in child support at the time of his “death.”

It seems she has a better reason than most ex-wives to wish her ex-husband dead. At least legally so.

Miller can take his case to federal court to challenge the Social Security Administration, but his attorney, Francis Marley, said Miller does not have the money to do so.

Judge Davis referred to Donald Miller’s case as a “strange, strange situation.”

“I don’t know where that leaves you, but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned,” Davis said.

We wonder if the Leonardo DiCaprio version will have a happier ending.

PrintFriendlyShare

Matthew S. Meza Distinguished as a Southern California Super Lawyer

October 12, 2013 Posted by HallingMezaLLP

Matthew S. Meza has been distinguished as a 2011 Southern California Super Lawyer in the areas of Real Estate and Natural Resources by Super Lawyer Magazine.  This is his second consecutive year on the list.

PrintFriendlyShare