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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Man Gets 60 Days for Posing as a Lawyer

September 08, 2000

NORTHRIDGE — A local man who posed as a lawyer and negotiated $44,000 worth of liability claims was sentenced to 60 days in jail, City Atty. James K. Hahn said Thursday.

Kenneth James Berton, 28, who had worked as a secretary at the Los Angeles law firm Cox, Castle & Nicholson, pleaded no contest to one count of practicing law without being a member of the California Bar, prosecutors said.

In addition to jail time, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Brandolino sentenced Berton to 45 days on a graffiti-removal crew and two years' probation.

Berton used the law firm's stationary to carry out legal negotiations that led to two settlements in car accidents, including one on behalf of his ex-wife, said Deputy City Atty. Don Kass, who prosecuted the case. The deception was discovered when the firm received an anonymous tip about Berton's activities.

Kass said complaints about phony lawyers usually involve people who dupe clients, not other attorneys. "Here you had somebody who set up an elaborate scheme to deceive attorneys on the other side [in settlement negotiations]," Kass said. "It was unusual."

Berton is due back in court Oct. 6 for a hearing to determine whether he will be required to pay restitution, prosecutors said.

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