An El Cerrito attorney has filed suit against a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to low-income Berkeley residents, and promises a large campaign against what he claims is a conspiracy to defraud poor citizens by offering shoddy legal services.
The attorney, Andrew Shalaby, charges Oakland’s Eviction Defense Center with “ghostwriting,” or anonymously preparing documents for parties who act as their own lawyers in court. He believes that the process was made illegal last year, when the California legislature instituted a system to regulate the independent paralegal industry.
His opponents, though, argue that lawyers are perfectly within their rights to write cases for “pro per” parties – people who represent themselves in legal cases. They believe that Shalaby’s true motive is to harass the EDC, and ultimately to limit the kinds of services that places like it provide.
“What Mr. Shalaby is trying to do is prevent poor tenants from getting any help at all,” said Robert Salinas, the attorney representing Ira Jacobowitz, a member of the EDC’s board of directors. “It is disgusting.”
So far, the courts have agreed with the EDC, but Shalaby has persisted in his claim and threatens to take the case to the California Supreme Court and to the federal court system.
The city’s Rent Stabilization Board grants the EDC $52,000 per year in exchange for counseling provided to low-income Berkeley citizens who find themselves in legal disputes with their landlords. The rent board also funds two other organizations – the East Bay Community Law Center and Housing Rights, Inc. – for similar services.
According to Shalaby, the Eviction Defense Center illegally acts as a “legal document assistant (LDA),” or an independent paralegal.
The California Business and Professions Code requires LDA’s to register and, in the county in which they operate, post a bond and put their names and addresses on all documents they prepare. They are not allowed to dispense legal advice. The majority of LDA’s work in fields like divorce, bankruptcy and estate planning.
The whole matter began last year, when Shalaby was retained by a Berkeley landlord when he began eviction proceedings against a tenant. The tenant decided to fight the eviction, and to act as her own attorney.
The Superior Court heard the case on Oct. 27, 2000. The tenant showed up in court with a demurrer – a request for the