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“Jailhouse Lawyer 360” Shut Down by California Bar

by Jayson Hawkins

Like many other California parolees, Anthony David Urbano wanted to use the skills learned in prison to make a living on the outside. Unfortunately, his skill was serving as a “jailhouse lawyer,” helping other prisoners with their legal work, and his right to use it remained behind bars when he was released.

On February 8, 2022, the State Bar of California filed an action in a state superior court in Sacramento County, seeking to assume jurisdiction over a business Urbano had set up, “Jailhouse Lawyer 360,” and asking to seize all associated records, files, and finances.

Under California law, a prisoner can assist another prisoner in legal matters as long as both are incarcerated and no fee is charged. The state Business and Professions Code § 6126.3 is clear, however, that once a prisoner is freed, his right to offer legal assistance ends.

After he was released, Urbano set up his business, charging prisoners to work on their behalf. He received several cease-and-desist orders from the state bar, but he maintained that his status as a parolee allowed him to continue to provide legal services to prisoners. He offered no defense for the fees he charged.

Complaints began to pile up, including one filed by the fiancée of a prisoner. Urbano charged her $1,174 in advance to take on the man’s case. She demanded a refund once she discovered Urbano was not a lawyer, but he declined to provide it.

On the same day that the bar filed its suit, the court found it was likely to succeed and that delaying the requested relief could cause substantial injury to the public. So an interim order was issued, authorizing the requested seizures and ordering Urbano to appear in court.

The bar then acted quickly, seizing bank accounts and twenty boxes of records containing hundreds of files. In a press release, Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona said that “[i]ncarcerated individuals and their families are in a vulnerable and often desperate predicament, and to have someone take advantage of that by selling legal services they are not authorized to provide is illegal.” He vowed to work “to shut this sham operation down.” See: State Bar of Cal. v. Urbano, Cal. Super. (Cty. of Sacramento), Case No. 34-2022-00314899. 

Additional source: Bloomberg Law

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Related legal case

State Bar of Cal. v. Urbano, Cal. Super. (Cty. of Sacramento)