Bert J. Martinez didn't bring a toothbrush to court on June 2, but it would have been a good idea. At the end of a contempt hearing, Superior Court Judge Michael Jones sentenced Martinez to 48 hours in jail, to be served immediately, and fined him $450.
Jones ruled Martinez had pretended to be an attorney in court pleadings and other paperwork involving the case of Adam Stein, a Mesa man whose Jeep was rear-ended last year. Martinez had indicated he was "representing" the plaintiff in the case, who was trying to appeal a lower-court ruling.
Court records show Martinez filed an opening brief in the case April 4, and listed himself as an attorney-at-law with an Arizona Bar number. That number belongs to an assistant public defender, Julia Pulling. Pulling -- who was admitted to the practice of law in May 2002 -- told the State Bar of Arizona last week she'd never heard of Martinez.
"This gentleman was not credible, and his story was not credible," Jones says. "It's a very serious thing to take someone's freedom away, but I felt it was the most appropriate action to take under the circumstances."
Martinez had written to Jones shortly after the judge ordered the contempt hearing, claiming "an upset former employee took my notice of termination as an opportunity to play a mean-spirited prank for retaliation for being terminated. . . . I have never suggested to anyone that I was an attorney authorized to practice law."
But, Jones wrote in his four-page ruling, "The Court finds that that explanation is simply not credible . . ."
The judge's skepticism was well-founded.
Martinez tells New Times that he lied to the judge and others about his credentials.
"I screwed up, I got spanked, and I deserved it," he says of the Stein case. "It was purely stupid, ego crap, and it was dumb to use someone's Bar number. I think [Jones] was fair and just, though I didn't expect him to sentence me right there and then."
Martinez's firm, Liberty Property Damage, describes its mission as "to liberate both the attorney and client from the pain and aggravation of having to manage and transact with sluggish insurance companies." Martinez points out he didn't collect any money from Stein (who confirmed this during the contempt hearing), and says he is attending an unspecified California law school by way of correspondence.
"I really do want to be an attorney someday," he says, "though I'm not sure if they'll ever let me in Arizona because of all this."
Asked if he has a history of trying to pass himself off as an attorney, Martinez first responded with a one-word answer, "Nope." Then he added, "This is my one and only situation."
But Fran Johansen, who heads the unauthorized practice of law section at the State Bar of Arizona, says she has a large file of complaints against Martinez, including one filed just last week by Deborah and Lonnie Bolden of Elk Grove, California.
The complaint (which the Boldens also sent to the Arizona Attorney General's Office) describes how their vehicle was rear-ended last June 29 by a man driving an Enterprise rental car. The Boldens and their son sustained neck and back injuries in the crash, and received chiropractic treatment in California.
Debbie Bolden tells New Times she later phoned Bert Martinez at the recommendation of Mesa sole practitioner Scott Richardson, whose name she'd found on the Internet.
"Bert was totally excited about taking the case, and I was sure he was a lawyer because he verbally said he was," says Bolden, who works as an investigator for a Sacramento-based utility company. "He was going to get 33 percent of whatever settlement we had, and 15 percent more if we went to trial. We are looking at $40,000 or so for the three of us. But at no time until yesterday [June 4] did I know that he wasn't an attorney."
In the Bolden case, records show Martinez used the Arizona Bar number of Shelley Pysell, a Tempe attorney admitted to the practice of law on the same day in May 2002 as Julia Pulling. Perhaps coincidentally, Pysell was an attorney in yet another Martinez-related unauthorized practice case involving a Valley fender-bender. (Attorney Scott Richardson's name also came up in that case, during which Glendale Justice of the Peace Quentin Tolby issued civil sanctions against Richardson, and removed Martinez from the case.)
Paperwork provided by Deborah Bolden suggests Martinez has been engaging in more than the unauthorized practice of law. On May 20, someone sent a letter sent from Martinez's fax machine to an insurance adjuster for Enterprise Leasing Company of Phoenix. The name on the top of the letterhead is Lonnie Bolden, and lists a Phoenix post office box number.
"My attorney's office has not heard any response to our settlement offer made several months ago," the letter says in part, referring to Bert Martinez. "From this date forward, I request all communication to be forwarded to my attention."
The letter is signed "Lonnie Bolden."
But Deborah Bolden says her husband never signed such a letter, nor did he know of its existence until last week. In fact, Bert Martinez has the same distinctive letterhead as that purported to be Bolden's, and uses an identical Phoenix post office box number.
"I'm sure Martinez would have cashed the check if he'd gotten it and never let us know a thing," Deborah Bolden says. "I feel so stupid. The bottom line is, he's a crook."
Bolden and others seeking to stop Bert Martinez will have to look beyond the unauthorized practice of law issue. Arizona is the only state without criminal sanctions against the unauthorized practice of law.
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Martinez says his short jail stint provided him a valuable learning lesson.
"It was a great way to keep myself sober and straight about what I should and shouldn't do," he says. "I call it a good learning experience."
But Deborah Bolden says she got a call from Martinez late last week, a day or two after his release from jail. At that point, she notes, Martinez didn't know she and her husband were onto him as a fraud.
"All he told me was he'd been away for a couple of days, but was ready to get back into our case," Bolden says. "The liar."