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Texas Sues Former Prisoner Over Unauthorized Practice of Law

by Matt Clarke

On May 12, 2010, the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee (UPLC), a nine-member body appointed by the Texas Supreme Court that is responsible for enforcing statutes prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law, filed suit against Tony R. Davis, a former federal prisoner, and his two affiliated companies, International Legal Services, Inc. and ILS Services, Inc., seeking an injunction to prevent them from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. A state district court judge granted a temporary restraining order the same day it was requested by the UPLC.

Davis was convicted of eight counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, travel and transportation of securities for fraudulent purposes, and money laundering by a federal jury in Austin, Texas in 1988. He served about 66 months of a 97-month sentence, then returned to Austin where he set up his companies, reportedly in his wife’s name. Davis said he took paralegal and legal secretary courses and that his businesses employ about 17 people to do legal research. He uses the research to generate legal documents, which he copyrights. The UPLC claims he sells the copyrighted material to his companies’ clients, most of whom are incarcerated.

A 1999 state statute exempts from the definition of “law” for purposes of “unauthorized practice of law” the creation, sale or distribution of materials that clearly and conspicuously state they are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. The UPLC’s suit says Davis goes far beyond that, alleging that he gives legal advice to clients for a fee; advises clients of their legal rights, duties and responsibilities; and engages in the general practice of law.

The UPLC claims that, using newsletters sent to prisoners and Internet advertisements, Davis and his companies solicit clients to purchase legal research and criminal defense theories, and advise clients on how and where to file the documents they generate. The UPLC suit alleges that a “payment of $10,050 is generally charged by Defendants to process and fill out defensive motions and appellate briefs and other fees are charged for other services.”

Kevin Lashus, an Austin attorney who filed the UPLC lawsuit, said the committee had “received complaints about [Davis] for the last year to year and a half, and there is an ongoing investigation.” The UPLC is asking the court to appoint a special master to audit the finances of Davis’ companies.

“We’re going to seek restitution for [his] clients,” Lashus added.

Davis, who is representing himself in the UPLC lawsuit, said he never told anyone he was practicing law but represented his companies as legal research firms and informed clients, “if they need a lawyer, we can refer them to one.”

According to an October 28, 2007 article in the Austin American-Statesman, Davis developed a legal argument claiming that federal criminal statutes – and thus all federal convictions – are invalid because Congress failed to correctly pass legislation enacting Title 18 of the U.S. Code. However, he was unable to point to a case where that argument succeeded, and in fact two courts have sanctioned him for filing frivolous pleadings which included that claim.

“This case is unbelievably frivolous,” the Seventh Circuit stated in a Sept. 2007 ruling in a case that raised Davis’ Title 18 argument. See: United States v. States, 242 Fed.Appx. 362 (7th Cir. 2007); see also, United States v. Collins, 510 F.3d 697 (7th Cir. 2007). Further, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case based on Davis’ Title 18 legal theory.

Davis has been sued by several clients seeking refunds, including prisoners’ family members, and has filed counter-suits alleging defamation and breach of contract.
The temporary restraining order entered by the court in the UPLC lawsuit – later converted to a temporary injunction – prohibits Davis and his companies from giving legal advice to clients, collecting fees, or circulating newsletters or running ads that imply they can provide legal assistance.

The suit against Davis remains pending; according to the UPLC, several law enforcement agencies are also investigating claims that he engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. See: The Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee v. Davis, 250th Judicial District Court (TX), Case No. D-1-GN-10-001514.

Additional sources: Texas Lawyer, Austin American-Statesman

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Related legal case

The Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee v. Davis