LOS ANGELES — Two lawsuits filed recently against the Matian Law Firm allege that the firm preyed on poor, non-English speaking Hispanics and defamed a former attorney after she reported the wrongdoing.
Attorney Heather Monasky, who worked with the firm from January to April, is suing the firm for allegedly lying to clients, stealing their money, engaging in email fraud schemes and for trying to conceal the fraud while she was employed.
Monasky said members of the firm’s sales team, none of whom were lawyers, “would lie to the clients about the results they could get. They would say ‘We can get you this. We can get the case dismissed or we can get a lower charge.’ And that’s something that no attorney can promise a client because it’s not something that you know ahead of time.”
Often, the sales team of non-lawyers participated in unauthorized practice of law, which is considered legal malpractice and a violation of the California State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct, Monansky said.
“A lot of non-attorneys were handling cases and communicating with clients. They were telling the attorneys to plead clients out, which is not the job of a non-attorney,” Monasky said. The firm allegedly also forced many of their non-English speaking Latino clients to plead guilty regardless of their case merits.
While Monasky was a firm employee, she and her co-attorneys couldn’t adequately work on client cases because of how many they were given, she said.
“I represented, when I left, about 260 clients just assigned to me,” Monasky said. When she complained to management about the workload, they claimed it was unintentional and that they simply were trying to catch up with the firm’s exponential growth over the last several months, she said.
But Monasky claims her workload was dramatically increased after she notified her supervisors and Shawn Matian, the firm’s owner, of the unlawful activity. She thinks the increased workload was management’s retaliation for reporting the activity she saw.
Eventually, Monasky quit because “with that workload and the number of courts I was going to, I could not practice competently. I could not give my clients the representation they deserved,” she said.
Monasky’s attorney Okorie Okorocha of the Okorocha Firm, filed a whistleblower and defamation complaint for her in April.
A person who identified himself as a manager of the law firm refused to comment on the suit when reached by a reporter May 16.
On May 14, Okorocha filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of four Matian Law Firm clients.
“The Matian Firm is a criminal enterprise,” Okorocha said in a press release. “It engages in racketeering and fraud, and it uses a non-attorney sales team that makes promises to potential clients, steals their money, then does nothing to help them.”
Byron Ramirez, Claudia Anguiano and Dario Anguiano are among the class action lawsuit plaintiffs. The complaints filed against the firm include:
- Aiding the unauthorized practice of law by allowing unsupervised nonlawyers to practice law without a license.
- Failing to act competently for failing to supervise nonlawyer work.
- Failing to avoid conflicts of interest: taking a refundable flat fee from the class with no intention to fully perform under the retainer.
- Forming a partnership with a nonlawyer.
- Constructive fraud.
- And unfair business practices.
The plaintiffs allege that The Matian Firm, La Liga Defensora –– a branch of the firm –– and Matian are “dedicated to committing fraud, preying on the Latino community, using non-lawyers to decide everything about thousands of cases,” the lawsuit stated. This includes “using non-lawyers on a sales team that are paid commission for overtly lying to clients to secure the sign up clients … and commits wholesale deception and fraud to pocket millions of dollars…”
Okorocha also filed a report with the State Bar of California –– the agency that regulates the state’s lawyers ––against the firm.