12 April 2012

Fake Lawyer is Found Out

Story first appeared on The Detroit Free Press.

He's gotten dozens of court-assigned cases, handled hundreds of DUI cases, appeared in civil suits and even monitored the federal terrorism trial of a man often called the Underwear Bomber, who tried to blow up an airliner headed to Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009.

And he did it all without a Michigan law license.

Now holding the distinction of being disbarred before he ever got a state law license, a 1992 graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University Law School in Nigeria, leveraged a rarely issued limited license for foreign lawyers into an unauthorized, three-year legal career in criminal, civil and traffic courts around metro Detroit.

On Monday, he said that he is appealing his March disbarment and declined to comment further.  But the problems are just beginning for the courts where he handled cases.

The Presiding Judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court's criminal division, where the Nigerian lawyer managed to get paid $9,645 as a court-appointed lawyer in more than 50 cases between 2009 and 2011, said he is a nightmare.

The court systems are still sifting through the files to identify and contact the defendants, most of whom pleaded to low-end felonies, such as minor drug possession.

The first priority is the clients now in prison. Of the first six, five of them -- after meeting with lawyers from the Legal Aid and Defenders office -- decided to stick with their pleas struck with him. The sixth is talking it over with his family.

The defendants can withdraw their pleas and start over. But they should be careful what they wish for, because any previous deals or offers now could be off the table.  For those who already have prevailed, there will be no re-examining of their cases.

The Nigerian lawyer also collected $2,625 as a court-appointed lawyer in Wayne County juvenile court.

He appeared on larger stages as well. He attended some of the early court proceedings for The Underwear Bomber and identified himself to international reporters as an observer on behalf of the Nigerian government.

The Nigerian embassy did not respond to questions about him.

His extraordinary -- and illegal -- courtroom career in Michigan, now under investigation for possible criminal prosecution, came to a crashing end in 2009 over five crates of kola nuts.

His courtroom clumsiness wasn't a tip-off, the opposing counsel in the kola nuts case said, because there are lots of lawyers who don't appear to know what they're doing. Instead, some questionable documents Anjorin submitted to support a claim against her client about the ruined load of nuts sent up red flags.

A complaint to the state's Attorney Grievance Commission led to the discovery that he was not licensed to practice law in Michigan. The commission charged him with violating his limited license.

He was authorized under a special license from the State Bar of Michigan to give legal advice about Nigerian law. The limited license as a special legal consultant included what is called a "P number," the five-digit identifier fully licensed Michigan lawyers all have.

Occupying a little-known niche, there have been just 14 special legal consultants in Michigan since 1988. And last year, he was one of just four in the state.

The limited license authorizes lawyers with foreign accreditation to give legal advice about their homeland to clients in Michigan. It does not make them lawyers approved to practice in Michigan courts - a limitation that was not part of the bar association online listing.

Since the Nigerian lawyer case, the bar association has changed its handling of special legal consultants. The five-digit P number has been replaced with a four-digit LP number, and the online directory states they are "ineligible to practice law in state court matters."

The Nigerian lawyer used his P number to sign up for seminars so he could get approved as a court-appointed attorney, a lawyer paid with public money to represent indigent clients in criminal cases. He also set up a website offering legal services for divorces, international laws, immigration, traffic offenses and his self-proclaimed specialty of drunken driving cases.

He also filed a case in federal court in 2010, but it went inactive after he was notified that he must join the local federal bar association.

His special license was stripped last month after a one-day hearing in December before the Attorney Discipline Board. Representing himself at the hearing, he said he believed he could take cases involving U.S. laws that were similar to Nigerian laws.

Losing his license may be just the tip of his problems. Court officials are collecting information for a possible criminal investigation and forwarding it to the Michigan Attorney General's Office, which declined to comment or confirm the investigation.

The December disciplinary hearing seemed like a slow-motion confession, according to records of the proceedings.

He admitted he handled many criminal cases, and by his own estimation he took "like a thousand" traffic cases.

He said he strayed from his own guidelines for taking only Michigan cases that paralleled Nigerian law because there is no DUI law in Nigeria.  But feels that he is one of the best DUI lawyers in the county.

In his final plea, he said he should be able to take some makeup courses because he was misled by the rules governing his limited license.  He feels that he has wasted four years.

But he did have a solution for the panel that he said would make things right: he urged the panel to make him a state attorney.

Whether that proposal will fly on appeal is yet to be seen.

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