A Bill in Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

Two important new consumer protection bills were introduced by the California State Legislature this summer.

The first is AB 1159, which would regulate how attorneys deliver "immigration reform act services" to their clients -- if and when Congress enacts comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to legalization and citizenship for unauthorized individuals.

The second is AB 888, a non-immigration specific bill that would amend the California Business and Professions Code to authorize the imposition of civil penalties against persons who are not active members of the California Bar but who hold themselves out as entitled to practice law or who engage in the unlawful practice of law. The California Business and Professions Code Section 6126 already criminalizes such conduct.

AB 888 would also amend the Business and Professions Code to require the California State Bar to disclose investigative information to state and local criminal enforcement agencies, and furthers the power of the State Bar to request the agencies to bring an enforcement action or to bring a civil action in its own name. A court, in addition to being authorized to award the State Bar civil penalties and exemplary damages for violations of Business and Professions Code sections 6125 and 6126, would be empowered to award the State Bar its reasonable attorney's fees and costs for successful enforcement actions.

Further, AB 888 would expand the power of government to bring civil actions against persons who engage, or who propose to engage, in "unfair competition," and would create an Unfair Competition Law Fund within the General Fund in the State Treasury, where the spoils of enforcement would be deposited and used by the Attorney General to support investigations and prosecutions of California's consumer protection laws. AB 888 also sets forth procedures for recovery of expenses incurred in investigation, enforcement and prosecution under Business and Professions Code sections 6125 and 6126.

So far, only AB 1159 seems to have generated much controvery, particularly within the immigration bar. AB 888 has not come under the same degree of scrutiny, perhaps because few would disagree that there is no place in society for persons who put consumers at risk by practicing law without a license. But what few seem to have noticed is that California may soon acquire increased power to prosecute these individuals under an expansion of the unfair competition law. How that will play out remains to be seen. Fraudulent immigration service providers beware.

Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.