Christopher Stender: Court Upholds Injunction Against Attorney Accused of Scamming Immigrants
Martin Guajardo, the former San Francisco immigration lawyer accused of scamming his clients, remains at large since City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against him in November 2010. In the meantime, Christopher Stender, an attorney whom the city has accused of aiding and abetting Guarardo's alleged fraud, has continued to practice law.
Stender's job is about to get much harder though.
Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal upheld Herrera's March 2011 injunction that Stender and his now-closed San Francisco law firm, Immigration Practice Group (IPG), must inform all their clients that Guajardo is not allowed to practice law and must turn over the case files for any clients who wish to find new representation.
Guajardo, who was twice suspended by the California State Bar during the 1990s, voluntarily gave up his law license in 2008 after the state bar pursued charges against him, claiming, according to the city's lawsuit, that "he continued to charge excessive or unconscionable fees for inadequate representation."
At this point, Christopher Stender took over Guajardo's firm -- whose name had changed from "Martin Resendez Guajardo, A Professional Corporation" to "IPG" -- and all of its cases. The city, however, claims that Stender and IPG were acting on Guajardo's behalf, that it was all just a front for Guajaro to keep scamming immigrants. So, in November 2011, the city sued him. Their scheme, according to Herrera: Charge big money and make big promises to resolve clients' immigration situations, then do little-to-nothing but cash the checks.
However, when officials sought to serve him, they found that Guajardo apparently skipped town. IPG closed shop a month after the lawsuit was filed. According to a March 2011 Bay Citizen story:
Mr. Guajardo's wife, Debra, has moved to sell two condominiums she owns across the street from the Transamerica Pyramid in addition to 555 Clay Street, the downtown office building that held Mr. Guajardo's law practice. The three have a combined estimated value of more than $7 million. All are in the early stages of foreclosure.
Public records show Mr. Guajardo has no properties in his own name in California.
Stender denies that he scammed clients, and claims that he took over Guajaro's law firm with proper intention.
"Mr. Guajaro was a highly experienced, longtime immigration attorney who had a reputation of being able to help clients," Stender said in his legal declaration. "His reputation among the immigrant community is apparently conceded by the Plaintiffs. It was my intent to learn how he was so successful in the vast majority of his cases, what contracts and resources he may have gained over the years, and to continue to represent his former clients as an extension of my own multiple-office network of immigration attorneys."
Stender, who is licensed in New York and Connecticut, but not California, asserted that that IPG employed Guajardo only to "help in the transition of the previous client files and case histories," and that they ended their association in mid-October 2010. It is unclear whether Stender continues to work with any IPG clients.