Criminal Justice

Lawyers receive notices to appear for 'clients' they never represented; tampering probe is underway

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Lawyers were flummoxed when they received notices to appear in superior court in Orange County, California, last Friday on behalf of “clients” they never represented.

As the lawyers appeared in the Westminster courtroom of Judge Thomas Borris, they learned the judge was asking defendants to show why resolutions of their cases decided as long ago as 2006 should not be vacated, report the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly and the Associated Press.

The judge is examining about 600 cases as part of a probe into apparent records tampering. FBI agents were at the courthouse on Friday interviewing defendants, part of the probe into possible fake plea deals and forgeries involving DUI and other traffic cases, according to the Orange County Register.

Sheny Gutierrez, who was among 110 lawyers asked to appear in court on Friday, spoke with the Orange County Register about the apparent tampering. Gutierrez speculated that a clerk was entering false information and “getting cash in exchange for making stuff disappear.”

Borris vacated about a dozen dispositions, giving defendants a choice of resolving their cases by negotiating with a prosecutor in court, negotiating with the judge, or hiring a lawyer. Most negotiated with the prosecutor.

In one case, Borris ordered the arrest of a woman who said she had served three months in a private jail on a DUI charge. The judge called the jail during a break and learned the defendant had not been an inmate there. The lawyer listed for the defendant said she never represented the defendant and her address and state bar number on the paperwork were incorrect.

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