New Zealand Law Society - Fake designer handbags, fake news, fake lawyers...

Fake designer handbags, fake news, fake lawyers...

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You’ve got to be careful. Things may not be what they seem. Fake lawyers are not all that uncommon, it turns out. Here are some (mostly) recent examples:

New Zealand

Lego heads

With irregular communications and uncertain constitutional arrangements, the qualifications of early lawyers were sometimes suspect. The first Chief Justice, Sir William Martin, spent some energy trying to prevent unqualified people from practising law. There were doubts about Alfred de Bathe Brandon in Wellington and Michael Murphy in Kororareka (later renamed Russell). Brandon was able to prove that he had been a law clerk in London but was not allowed to practise as a solicitor until he was admitted on 17 February 1844. He later had a glittering career, which included becoming the first President of the Wellington District Law Society.

“There is no evidence that [Murphy] was legally qualified and the probabilities are against it,” says Portrait of a Profession. The Murphy problem was solved by his appointment as Police Magistrate in Wellington in 1841 (no legal qualifications needed). Both Brandon and Murphy have Wellington streets named after them.

More recently, Brian Damian Hunter was convicted in Palmerston North District Court in 2012 for using a Wellington lawyer’s letterhead to impersonate a lawyer in order to convince a woman to sell her house.

In May 2017, Kalpana Narayan was jailed for two years and four months at Manukau District Court for a number of theft and dishonesty charges. In one case Ms Narayan pretended she was a lawyer and pretended an assault charge had been filed against her victim. She successfully requested several payments for filing fees and a court bond before being found out.


Emmanuel Marfo was busily arguing on behalf of his client in a civil suit at the Koforidua Circuit Court in August 2018 when Judge Evelyn Asamoah became suspicious of his inability to follow the legal language used and his knowledge of procedure. The Daily Graphic reported that after further judicial interrogation, Mr Marfo admitted he was not a lawyer and was promptly arrested. It got worse for Mr Marfo. The lawyer he engaged to obtain bail was also found to be a fake.


In January 2017, the Bar Council of India said that its two-year verification process had cut the number of genuine lawyers to 55-60% of those previously practising. Every year thousands of lawyers graduate from almost 900 law colleges spread across India and it’s obviously pretty hard to keep track of who is a genuine lawyer and who is not. In January 2016 the verification project turned up P Natarajan who had served in Tamil Nadu for over 21 years as a judicial magistrate but who had no valid legal qualification. A man called Ajitkar, who was arrested in February 2017 for posing as a lawyer, revealed that wearing a black coat was often enough to convince potential clients that he was a lawyer.


Looking the part is obviously important. Dressed in a “self-made legal suit” Rudolph Hightower ran into problems while arguing a summary proceedings application before Judge Kontoe in Liberia’s Bensonville Magisterial Court, the Daily Observer reported on 15 October 2018. “During the hearing, Hightower rose and introduced himself as counsel … only to start throwing wrong legal jargon in the courtroom from where he was identified as a ‘fake lawyer’ because his language and conduct pricked the ears of Judge Kontoe and other lawyers,” the paper said. Asked when he completed law school and for documents to prove he was a lawyer, Mr Hightower could not comply. He was arrested and, unable to obtain bail, left the court in handcuffs. “Hightower is neither a lawyer nor has he been called to the bar; he is a mere criminal,” Judge Kontoe declared, vowing to continue to scrutinise anyone appearing before him who claimed to be a lawyer.

New Jersey, United States

Leaford George Cameron, 65, was sentenced in July 2018 to 12 years in prison for posing as a lawyer in a nationwide legal scam. Mr Cameron ran a phony law firm from his home while on probation for a 2014 conviction for impersonating an attorney. He claimed to be an attorney in state and federal cases, including in six states as well as in Jamaica and India. He defrauded over 100 victims and collected at least $200,000 in bogus legal fees, authorities said. Mr Cameron’s victims suffered from his lack of real legal knowledge. One woman lost her home in a foreclosure case. In some immigration cases, his victims were ordered to be removed from the country. “Cameron was not only a phony lawyer, but also an incompetent phony lawyer,” US Attorney William M McSwain said in a statement.


In February 2018 the BBC reported that a Nigerian man who had successfully pretended to be a solicitor for 15 years – and won cases – had been arrested and charged. The unnamed 49-year-old was outed when he wanted to vary the bail conditions for his client but did not know how to go about it. A qualified lawyer who was present challenged him, saying that a bar-registered lawyer should be able to deal with a bail issue. Local media reports say the man told police that he had studied law at a Ukrainian university, but had yet to be called to the bar in Nigeria.

Pennsylvania, United States

Kimberley Kitchen, 47, was sentenced to two to five years in jail in May 2017 after being found guilty of the unauthorised practice of law, forgery and a few other things. With a community college education, Mrs Kitchen forged a law licence, bar exam results and other credentials to convince BMZ Law in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania to hire her in 2005. She specialised in estate planning and flourished, making partner and then becoming president of the county bar association. Dismissing her appeal, Judge Eugene B Strassburger III said her argument that she was “a good fake lawyer” did not negate her illegal intent.

United Kingdom

After being found guilty of six counts of fraud by false representation, Harvinder Kaur Thethi, 46, was jailed for five years at Southwark Crown Court in September 2018. Ms Thethi, who had no legal qualifications, claimed to be a successful lawyer on a large income. She obtained £68,000 from vulnerable people in payment for immigration services which were promised but never delivered.

Victoria, Australia

Dennis Wayne Jensen of North Warrandyte was banned from providing legal advice by the Victorian Supreme Court in August 2018. The Victorian Legal Services Board said Mr Jensen was not a lawyer, did not hold a practising certificate and had never held any legal qualifications, but had represented clients in court through his companies Common Law Resolutions Pty Ltd and JTA Corporation Pty Ltd. The board published newspaper notices warning people not to hire him to represent them in court or assist them with any legal matters. Mr Jensen was also in trouble with health authorities, who issued a prohibition order against him earlier this year after he claimed he could cure cancer through the use of a black salve paste.

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