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Ohio State Bar Association v. Home Advocate Trustees, L.L.C.

Supreme Court of Ohio

December 20, 2017

Ohio State Bar Association
v.
Home Advocate Trustees, L.L.C.

          Submitted June 7, 2017

         On Final Report by the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law of the Supreme Court, No. UPL 13-01.

          Arthur Law Firm Co., L.P.A., and Jennifer N. Brown; and Jean D. Blankenship, Bar Counsel, for relator.

          Per Curiam.

         {¶ 1} On March 28, 2013, relator, Ohio State Bar Association, filed a complaint with the Board of Commissioners on the Unauthorized Practice of Law against respondent, Home Advocate Trustees, L.L.C. ("HAT"), a Washington corporation, and Melanie Biscardi, of Land O'Lakes, Florida, and Shonnie Fancy, purportedly of Redmond, Washington. The complaint alleged that HAT, Biscardi, and Fancy engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by providing legal counsel to Ohio residents whose Ohio real property was in foreclosure and that their conduct constituted the unauthorized practice of law.

         {¶ 2} Unable to serve the complaint on Fancy, relator voluntarily dismissed her from the case. Biscardi answered the complaint and was deposed by relator. Although HAT was served with a copy of the complaint at its California office, it did not file an answer.

         {¶ 3} In October 2013, relator moved for judgment on the pleadings as to Biscardi and default judgment as to HAT or alternatively, for summary judgment as to both. On review, a three-member panel of the board ordered relator to submit a supplemental brief to address the issue of civil penalties and allowed HAT and Biscardi 20 days to file an answer brief. Relator filed the brief and later dismissed the case against Biscardi pursuant to Civ.R. 41(a).

         {¶ 4} The panel granted a default judgment against HAT and found that the company had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law as charged in the complaint. Consequently, it recommended that we issue an injunction prohibiting HAT from engaging in further acts of the unauthorized practice of law and impose a civil penalty of $10, 000. The board adopted the panel's findings and recommendation.

         {¶ 5} We adopt the board's findings of fact and determination that HAT engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, and we agree that an injunction and civil penalties are warranted.

         Findings of Fact

         {¶ 6} At her deposition, Biscardi testified that her first contact with HAT occurred when she responded to a Craigslist job posting for a paralegal with a real-estate background. Mark Farley interviewed her by telephone and introduced himself as an attorney. Biscardi accepted the job and worked as an independent contractor for HAT from February or March 2011 until October 2012, earning $12 per hour.

         {¶ 7} Throughout her employment, Biscardi acted under the supervision and instruction of Farley-whom she believed to be an attorney. Later, she learned that his legal name was Mark S. Farhood and that he was not, in fact, an attorney. Indeed, none of the individuals named in the complaint has ever been admitted to the practice of law in Ohio.

         {¶ 8} Biscardi explained that HAT marketed itself as an entity that provided assistance to financially distressed homeowners. It was her understanding that after a homeowner transferred property to HAT, the company would assist that homeowner in obtaining a new mortgage for the property and help the homeowner get the property back.

         {¶ 9} As a paralegal, legal supervisor, and foreclosure specialist, Biscardi supervised four or five HAT employees who were located in several foreign countries. She admitted that the employees that she supervised prepared and filed documents on behalf of homeowners using templates provided by Farley. But she noted that those actions were also supervised by Farley. The documents filed included notices of appearance, change-of-mailing-address and third-party authorizations, proofs of service, and requests for production of documents in two Ohio cases: CitiMortgage, ...


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