People ex rel. Herrera v. Stender

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtKline
Citation212 Cal.App.4th 614,152 Cal.Rptr.3d 16
PartiesThe PEOPLE EX REL. Dennis J. HERRERA, as City Attorney, etc., Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Christopher STENDER et al., Defendants and Appellants.
Decision Date16 January 2013

212 Cal.App.4th 614
152 Cal.Rptr.3d 16

The PEOPLE EX REL. Dennis J. HERRERA, as City Attorney, etc., Plaintiff and Respondent,
Christopher STENDER et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Court of Appeal,
First District, Division 2, California.

Filed December 4, 2012
As Modified January 16, 2013

San Francisco Superior Court, Hon. Peter J. Busch (City and County of San Francisco Super.
Ct. No. CGC–10–505449)
Attorneys for Appellants Christopher Stender and Immigration Practice Group, P.C.: Hendersen, Caverly, Pum & Charney LLP, Kristen E. Caverly, Edgar H. Hayden, Jr.

Attorneys for Respondent: Dennis J. Herrera, City Attorney, Danny Chou, Chief of Complex and Special Litigation, Owen Clements, Chief of Special Litigation, Joshua White, Deputy City Attorney, Kristine Poplawski, Deputy City Attorney.

Kline, P.J.

[212 Cal.App.4th 619]This appeal challenges a preliminary injunction requiring appellants, an immigration lawyer and law firm, to provide notice to certain clients that another lawyer who had been employed by the firm had resigned from the bar with disciplinary charges pending and was not authorized to practice law. Appellants contend the injunction should not have been granted because the statutes and rules they were alleged to have violated do not apply to them; the required notice was inaccurate and would cause harm to them and their clients; they were precluded from presenting evidence in their defense by their obligation not to violate attorney-client privilege and their clients' rights to privacy; and the events underlying the allegations against them were no longer occurring and unlikely to occur in the future. We will affirm.


Martin Resendez Guajardo was the president, treasurer, secretary and sole shareholder of an immigration law practice originally named “Martin Resendez Guajardo, A Professional Corporation.” In 2008, Guajardo resigned from the California State Bar with disciplinary charges pending,1 making him ineligible to practice

[152 Cal.Rptr.3d 23]

law, and attorney Christopher Stender acquired the law practice. Stender became a shareholder, along with Guajardo, effective April 8, 2008. On April 14, 2008, Guajardo changed the name of the law firm to “Immigration Practice Group, P.C.” (“IPG”). On April 16, 2008, the California State Bar certified that IPG was registered as a law corporation. Effective April 17, Stender replaced Guajardo as president, treasurer and secretary of IPG. Also on April 17, Guajardo's formal letter of resignation was filed with [212 Cal.App.4th 621]the State Bar.2 As of June 16, Stender became IPG's sole shareholder. Stender is a member of the state bars of New York and Connecticut and admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and other federal courts; he is not a member of the California State Bar.

On November 17, 2010, the People of the State of California filed a complaint against Guajardo, Stender and IPG, alleging they engaged in unlawful, unfair and deceptive business practices in violation of Business and Professions Code 3 section 17200, based on Guajardo's unauthorized practice of law.4 In essence, the complaint alleged that after his resignation from the bar, Guajardo continued his legal practice, aided and abetted by Stender and IPG; that the defendants failed to give required notice to clients and other entities of Guajardo's resignation and the activities he was prohibited from performing, and affirmatively led clients to believe Guajardo was in charge of their cases; and that the defendants engaged in unlawful acts related to fees and representation of clients in immigration matters.5 The People urged

[152 Cal.Rptr.3d 24]

that [212 Cal.App.4th 622]Guajardo, Stender and IPG were perpetuating a massive fraud, taking thousands of dollars under false pretenses from vulnerable and desperate immigrants in custody or facing imminent deportation and typically providing no services of value. The People sought relief including an order under sections 17203 and 17204 enjoining defendants from performing the unlawful acts described in the complaint and an injunction prohibiting them from continuing their unlawful and unfair activities and financial penalties. Citing the “imminent danger to the People each day Martin Guajardo continues to hold himself out as a lawyer, and Immigration Practice Group and Christopher Stender allow Guajardo to do so,” the People sought an Order to Show Cause Re Preliminary Injunction.

In support of the application for a preliminary injunction, the People submitted declarations from a number of clients who worked with Guajardo after his April 17, 2008, resignation from the bar. Most of these clients had hired Guajardo prior to his resignation, but a few first hired him afterward. All continued to work with Guajardo in the belief he was their attorney after April 2008 and declared that neither Guajardo nor anyone at IPG told them Guajardo resigned from the bar and was not authorized to practice law. Maria Hernandez, who first met with Guajardo in June 2010, declared that Guajardo told her that he was the head of the firm and directed and supervised the lawyers, who followed his orders. When Jagdeep Singh asked after hearing in the community that Guajardo had been suspended, Guajardo said it was only a one to two month suspension, Singh should not worry and “I'm still you're [sic] attorney and I'll take care of your case.”

According to the clients' declarations, Guajardo ran the clients' meetings and was the one who discussed the case and legal strategy. Jaime Hernandez stated

[152 Cal.Rptr.3d 25]

that in January 2009, Guajardo introduced him to Stender, saying he was retiring and transferring his practice to Stender, but Guajardo remained the only person who discussed Hernandez's case with him. Hernandez's son, who had been deported and whom Hernandez had hired Guajardo to help, spoke with Guajardo by phone every few months and formed the impression that Guajardo was the head of the office and had people, including Stender, working for him. Mynor Andrade declared that when the name of the practice changed to IPG, Guajardo stopped signing the correspondence Andrade received and most of the staff changed; Guajardo introduced Stender and Martin Robles and told Andrade his firm had merged with Stender's and there would now be a team of lawyers working on the case. When Andrade asked who was his lawyer, Stender pointed at Guajardo and said, “ ‘He's still your guy. We're [212 Cal.App.4th 623]just here to help.’ ” Subsequently, Guajardo's treatment of Stender led Andrade to believe Stender was Guajardo's subordinate. Magnolia Martinez declared that Guajardo acted like the head of the office, giving orders to other employees and attorneys. Denise Escober stated that Guajardo gave orders to employees while Stender seemed more like a secretary than a lawyer. A law student who accompanied one of the clients to a meeting with Guajardo declared that he ran the meeting and gave orders to staff, including orders to implement a legal strategy he came up with. Clients observed that Guajardo was always busy with other clients when they went to see him.

The clients' declarations also described Guajardo taking substantial sums of money but providing little in services. Maria Hernandez stated that after Guajardo promised to get her daughter out of detention and obtain legal status for her, and collected $5,000, no one from the office ever talked to the daughter or assisted at her immigration interview or hearing, and the daughter was deported. Jagdeep Singh terminated his relationship with Guajardo after three years, having paid $95,000, because Guajardo made promises but did nothing on his case. Guajardo told Balbir Singh it would cost $15,000 for him to get Singh a green card and Singh had paid $5,000 by the time he discovered Guajardo was not licensed and consulted another attorney. Singh was not aware of Guajardo or anyone at the firm having filed any document on his behalf. Jaime Hernandez described the unsuccessful actions Guajardo's firm took on his son's case and stated that an attorney he subsequently contacted filed a successful motion to reopen based on Stender having provided ineffective assistance of counsel. Mynor Andrade and his family paid Guajardo $20,000 to obtain his and his brother's release from immigration custody, then an additional $19,500 on Guajardo's assertion that he could obtain permanent resident status for the brothers. Guajardo continually assured Andrade he would be successful, but the motions and petitions Guajardo, Stender and another IPG attorney filed on Andrade's behalf were unsuccessful and an attorney Andrade subsequently consulted told him at least one of these petitions had little or no chance of success. Denise Escober paid Guajardo $35,000 to $40,000 to help her husband obtain a green card and Guajardo told them he would file a document that would guarantee her husband could stay in the United States for another three to five years, but her husband was deported a year later.

Additionally, the clients declared that they discussed legal fees with Guajardo and paid him directly. Several clients stated that after they fired Guajardo, the files returned to them were incomplete.

[152 Cal.Rptr.3d 26]

The trial court filed its Order to Show Cause on November 22, 2010, setting the matter for December 21, 2010. Efforts to personally serve Guajardo were unsuccessful.

[212 Cal.App.4th 624]On December 13, Stender and IPG filed a Notice of Removal of Action to federal court on the ground that the case involved a federal question—the regulation of attorneys and practitioners in federal courts and federal immigration courts and administrative agencies. The action was remanded to state court on January 7, 2011.

Stender and IPG then filed objections to the People's evidence in support of the application for a preliminary...

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