After three years of hard‐fought litigation, S.F. City Attorney is ‘grateful that we’re now able to conclude this case with a measure of justice for the victims’
SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 16, 2013)— City Attorney Dennis Herrera reached a settlement today in his litigation against Christopher Stender, a licensed lawyer and former president of the Immigration Practice Group, P.C., whom Herrera charged in 2010 with fronting for Martin Guajardo, a notorious predatory immigration ex‐lawyer who had resigned from the California Bar amid serious disciplinary charges but continued to solicit clients through the IPG law firm.
Stender will pay a total of $418,000 under the terms of the settlement signed and submitted in San Francisco Superior Court this morning, with $268,000 paid directly to Guajardo’s and Stender’s former clients beginning in July 2014. The agreement requires Stender to provide names, addresses and information sufficient to identify and locate the approximately 1,000 former clients eligible to receive restitution. Stender must also pay another $150,000 over the next five years to the City Attorney’s Office for costs and fees of pursuing the action. The debt will be secured by a deed of trust on Stender’s residence in Arizona, which is owned by his wife.
The settlement agreement also prohibits Stender from having a business or professional association with Guajardo or any of three other former associates of the IPG law firm for five years, beginning Jan. 1.
“Martin Guajardo partnered with Christopher Stender so he could continue preying on vulnerable clients who often desperately needed immigration counsel—even after Guajardo had resigned in disgrace from the practice of law,” said Herrera. “The evidence is clear that Mr. Stender should have known better than to partner with Guajardo, and I’m grateful that we’re now able to conclude this case with a measure of justice for the victims. This case should send a dire warning to anyone who would consider exploiting immigrants and their families like Martin Guajardo did, or even partnering with such predators, as Mr. Stender did. Throughout this litigation, I’ve been thankful to many city leaders and nonprofits whose help has been so instrumental. Supervisor David Campos has been a particularly invaluable ally in our efforts, as have the Asian Law Caucus, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and others. I’m also very grateful to the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for their parallel class action on behalf of Guajardo’s victims.”
As a result of the same mediation and negotiation process, Stender also agreed to settle with the three individual plaintiffs who filed a class action on behalf of former Stender and Guajardo clients for a total of $32,000. That action had been pursued on a pro bono basis by the law firm of Orrick Herrington and Sutcliffe. The Orrick plaintiffs dismissed their class claims as part of the agreement, choosing instead to allow the City Attorney’s Office to distribute restitution to former clients. The distribution arrangement is both more cost‐effective and more beneficial to the victims because it will avoid the costly notice and opt‐out process that a class action settlement would require.
Martin Guajardo appears to have absconded from San Francisco, and has never been located or served with the complaint since Herrera first filed his litigation on Nov. 17, 2010. Less than a month after the filing, IPG ceased operations and abandoned its Financial District offices at 555 Clay Street. During the three decades he was licensed to practice law in California, Guajardo and his colleagues lured clients into paying exorbitant fees for legal services with empty promises of favorable outcomes and extravagant assurances about his connections in government agencies.
Guajardo’s clients were not only immigrants themselves, but also family members of immigrants, many of whom faced 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 his promises. Instead, he changed the name of his law firm to the Immigration Practice Group, 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, Christopher Stender, and Immigration Practice Group P.C.,, et al., San Francisco Superior Court No. CGC‐10‐505449, filed Nov. 17, 2010. The Orrick 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.
PDF of the Stender settlement presskit (Dec. 16, 2013)