Paralegal wins legal ruling in ongoing dispute with state

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Flathead Valley paralegal and former state Sen. Jerry O誰eil has prevailed in a recent court ruling that denied attorney general charges that his advertising has been 電eceptive as a matter of law.

The Montana Attorney General痴 Office filed charges in June 2007 alleging that O誰eil violated the state痴 Unfair Trade and Consumer Protection Act, seeking summary judgment in the case.

But this week, Helena District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock denied that motion in a ruling with language that supports O誰eil痴 arguments.

滴e indicated my ads were not deceptive, O誰eil said Wednesday. 釘ut that was the only motion before him.

The case is not settled. Unless the state and O誰eil come to an agreement, the case will proceed to a jury trial.

O誰eil痴 legal tangles over his status as an 妬ndependent paralegal go back several years, resulting in Polson District Judge Kim Christopher affirming an injunction that prohibited him from practicing law or advertising that he is capable of doing so.

That resulted in O誰eil making some changes to his business cards and advertisements and in his business practices.

徹誰eil claims he has complied with the permanent injunction and is not violating MCPA, as he is not providing services that only a lawyer can perform and is now working under the auspices of an attorney, Sherlock痴 ruling states. 徹誰eil claims he only prepares forms for individuals seeking dissolutions or step-parent adoptions. Those forms are then reviewed by an attorney before they are filed with the respective court.

It is also noted that O誰eil pays his supervising attorneys.

Sherlock found that O誰eil痴 advertisements offering 鏑ow Cost Divorce do not warrant summary judgment and they 殿rguably comply with the 2005 injunction.

徹誰eil痴 new advertisements present a new set of facts, and the issue as to whether there has been any violation of the MCPA presents a jury question, Sherlock wrote.

The judge cited an affidavit in support of O誰eil from Kalispell attorney Dean Knapton: 適napton states that he has reviewed O誰eil痴 paperwork for step-parent adoptions and divorces and believes that even with an attorney痴 review of the paperwork prepared by O誰eil, clients are obtaining 鼠ow cost divorces as advertised by O誰eil.

Sherlock further noted that Montana Legal Services uses volunteers who are not lawyers to basically provide the same services that O誰eil does, and they do so without subsequent attorney reviews.

From O誰eil痴 standpoint, the state Attorney General痴 Office is seeking steep penalties against him: a $10,000 fine for each alleged violation; forfeiture of all fees received through alleged unauthorized practice of law; forfeiture of his business phone number and a permanent injunction banning from advertising or doing any legal work that only licensees lawyers can perform; and a $10,000 penalty for any future violations.

O誰eil said he is countersuing the state for 妬nterfering in my business, a pursuit he claims is motivated by resistance to any threat to the state痴 lawyer 杜onopoly.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by e-mail at jmann@dailyinterlake.com

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