Court House Scoundrels

Unsuspecting consumers are getting ripped off by the hundreds. The Supereme Court is working to stop this unauthorized practice of law.

The Valley's legal landscape also is sprinkled with slippery characters who try to convince others that they are practicing lawyers, when they've never been.

One of them, David Pecard, made front-page news in late 1996 with his arrest on criminal charges of forgery, theft and sexually fondling two female inmates at the Maricopa County Jail.

Mesa resident Bill Ludlow has sued disbarred attorney turned "mediator" Gary Karpin for consumer fraud: "I still can't believe that no one can or will do anything about this guy, or anyone else like him."
Jackie Mercandetti
Mesa resident Bill Ludlow has sued disbarred attorney turned "mediator" Gary Karpin for consumer fraud: "I still can't believe that no one can or will do anything about this guy, or anyone else like him."
Allen Merrill, the owner of Legal Solutions, Inc.: "Essentially, the Bar has given us everything we wanted."
Jackie Mercandetti
Allen Merrill, the owner of Legal Solutions, Inc.: "Essentially, the Bar has given us everything we wanted."

It turned out Pecard was a longtime con man who had been AWOL from the U.S. Army when he fooled Phoenix police and Sheriff Joe Arpaio into believing he was an agent for the FBI and other agencies. Pecard talked Arpaio into personally issuing him a deputy sheriff's badge, which afforded him access to the women who later accused him of assault.

But a judge dropped charges against Pecard after it came to light that Arpaio's jail staff illegally had taped his phone conversations with his lawyer, and had opened his legal mail. The CBS show 48 Hours later devoted an hour to Pecard's saga, during which his Phoenix attorney said he'd hired him as a paralegal.

"He's made a commitment to being David Pecard," lawyer Richard Gierloff said on the show in 1999. "He's very much dedicated to improving his legal skills. He's terribly sincere."

But Pecard apparently is continuing to portray himself as much more than he really is, as complaints this year to the State Bar indicate.

In late January, the mother of a Phoenix man convicted of murder wrote to the Bar that Pecard had told her he was a criminal-defense attorney, and wanted to help with her son's appeal. Celeste Dwight said she'd turned over a box of legal files to Pecard, but then had been unable to contact him for months.

Dwight said a woman who identified herself as Pecard's sister-in-law later told her Pecard had been called to duty by "military intelligence" after the September 11 attacks. Celeste Dwight never paid him any money, but was livid that four months of her son's window to file for appellate review had elapsed on Pecard's watch.

Then, in March, a Southern California man sent the State Bar a business card he said Pecard had handed him during a seminar. The card said "David M. Pecard, Lawyer," and listed the phone number and address of Richard Gierloff.

F.M. Bonsall tells New Times, "He shows up, pays his $300 for the weekend, and is telling people, Yeah, I'm a lawyer in Arizona, if you need my services . . .' and so on. There was something about the guy, though he's smooth, so I checked him out, and found out he was a fake."

The Bar's Fran Johansen wrote to Pecard, telling him he shouldn't be telling people he's an attorney when he's not.

Pecard responded last April by saying, "Clearly, giving someone a business card does not constitute the unauthorized practice of law. Nor have I engaged in any conduct that is, or could be defined as the unauthorized practice of law."

Pecard went on in his written response to claim that he's a member of the Federal Bar Association admitted to practice in two federal jurisdictions. He signed the letter, "David M. Pecard, Esq."

But Vicki Stevens, that association's Phoenix chapter president, says she's never heard of Pecard. Stevens points out that to be a member of her voluntary organization, a person must be admitted to practice law in at least one of the 50 states.

Yet another complaint about Pecard came to the Bar on October 11, this one from federal prisoner Michael Reist. He is a former Marine sergeant now serving a 15-year prison term in Kentucky for rape.

Reist wrote that Pecard contacted him in September 1999, saying he was an attorney and promised to have him out of prison by that Christmas. Reist said his parents sent Pecard a check for $8,000 for his services.

Months passed, however, before Pecard informed Reist that the military had lost his file. Pecard then communicated sporadically with his "client" for much of 2000 and 2001, coming up with a litany of excuses why the appeal still was on hold.

Finally, last April, Pecard faxed Reist a copy of papers he said he was ready to file in the District Court of Kentucky. Reist said authorities there wanted Pecard to send documentation that he truly is an attorney.

"I haven't heard from him since," Reist wrote the Bar.

Richard Gierloff says he and Pecard "parted company" about a year ago, and that he doesn't know the whereabouts of his onetime client/employee. Gierloff says he asked Pecard earlier this year to stop using the card with his phone number and address on it.

"I know that Mr. Pecard took correspondence classes at a non-accredited law school," he says. "He told me he'd been admitted to practice in a couple of tribal courts somewhere. But I never checked into any of that, didn't have to. I had him doing strictly paralegal stuff for me, period."

Jesus Tabarez says he wanted a green card since soon after he came here illegally from Mexico in the mid-1990s.

Tabarez, in his early 30s, is the father of two. He's earned excellent ratings from his employers -- all of them Valley restaurant owners -- since landing in the Valley. He produces a large envelope of tax-withholding stubs to show he's been paying taxes since a few months after he got here.

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