A Tempe woman has been practicing law without certification and ripping off people who were going through divorces, the State Bar of Arizona alleges in a complaint filed Thursday.
The bar is asking a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to stop Lisa L. Crocker, 32, from doing legal document preparation services and repay eight people who say they paid for services that weren’t done or were done too late.
Robert Van Wyck, the bar’s chief counsel, said the complaint is the first one filed since an Arizona Supreme Court rule took effect July 1 that requires document preparers to be certified by the state.
Crocker, who also goes by Lisa Elwess, does business as A Woman for Women. She did not return messages left on her voice mail Thursday.
Van Wyck said Crocker was turned down for certification but continued to prepare legal documents, even after the bar sent her letters demanding she stop.
Mesa resident JoLene K. Morris-Dantos said Thursday she and her husband paid Crocker $950 in September 2002 to file preliminary paperwork for their amicable divorce.
They signed the final documents in March 2003 and believed they were divorced, but those papers were never filed with the court, Morris-Dantos said.
"We’re still married," Morris-Dantos, 45, said. "My life’s been on hold for two years."
The complaint contains other similar stories. One woman found out she was not only still married after believing Crocker filed her paperwork, but the failure to file caused problems with the child custody and finance issues of her divorce.
Van Wyck said the most document preparers can do is help fill out paperwork and provide generalized legal information; they can’t give customized legal advice.
They are different from paralegals, who are supervised by lawyers who in turn are held accountable for their work, according to the state bar.
People who hire document preparers tend to have simple legal issues and do
it for its relatively low cost, Van Wyck said.
The requirement for certification came about because too many consumers were taken advantage of and they had no place to turn, Van Wyck said.
Hundreds have received certification since July and are performing responsibly, he said.
Since July 1, the bar has received 328 written complaints about nonlawyers doing legal work and sent 25 cease-and-desist letters.