Herrera secures preliminary injunction against predatory immigration law practice
Judge orders Immigration Practice Group, Stender to stop misleading clients, alert them of Martin Guajardo’s deceptive practices
SAN FRANCISCO (March 1, 2011)— City Attorney Dennis Herrera has secured a preliminary injunction against Christopher Stender, president of Immigration Practice Group, P.C. (IPG) requiring Stender and his law firm to immediately stop aiding former lawyer Martin Guajardo in the unauthorized practice of law. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ruled late Friday that Stender and his San Francisco based firm have engaged in misleading clients by failing to notify them that Guajardo was not licensed to practice law, a practice that devastated the lives of the many immigrants and family members who sought their counsel.
The preliminary injunction forces Stender and anyone associated with IPG to immediately cease practicing law in concert or participation with Guajardo. Guajardo resigned from the State Bar in 2008 during an investigation into multiple allegations of misconduct by him, including ineffective representation and charging excessive legal fees. The Court further ordered Stender and IPG to notify all former and current clients of both Guajardo and IPG that Guajardo is not authorized to practice law; to return clients' files in their entirety if they choose to seek legal representation from another counsel; and to remove Guajardo's name from all advertising and promotional material used by IPG.
“Martin Guajardo created the Immigration Practice Group to continue preying on vulnerable clients, even after he resigned from the practice of law,” said Herrera. “I applaud Judge Busch for ordering an immediate halt to this firm’s exploitation of immigrants. It is an important step to protect immigrants and their families, too many of whom have been robbed of their chance at the American dream. I remain grateful to a number of City leaders, nonprofits and private lawyers without whose help we could not have filed so strong a case. 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 very thankful to the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for the parallel class action suit they’re pursuing on behalf of Guajardo’s victims.”
In November 2010, Herrera filed a lawsuit that alleged multiple violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law by Guajardo, Stender, and the Immigration Practice Group. The suit 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. To date, the City has not been able to locate or serve Martin Guajardo. Herrera’s office is aggressively pursuing investigative channels to locate Guajardo, including deposing members of Guajardo’s immediate family who reside in San Francisco.
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 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 in November 2007. In March 2008, the Board of Immigration Appeals suspended Guajardo from practicing before them. Then, in April 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 changed the name of his law firm to the Immigration Practice Group, P.C., and with the assistance of Stender and others, used the renamed firm as a front for his illegal practice of law and his continued exploitation of desperate immigrants. Stender was made president, treasurer, secretary, sole director and sole shareholder of IPG.
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/. A related 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.