Finesse Casado always aspired to be a lawyer, but he got a little ahead of himself.
Casado, who is not an attorney, admitted in court Tuesday that he tried to pass himself off as one in an October 2007 negotiated plea hearing in Hall County Superior Court.
Casado, dressed in a slate gray suit, blue shirt and tie, looked every bit as lawyerly as the man representing him, Robert Chambers, as he pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony theft by deception and misdemeanor practicing law without a license.
Casado, 38, who is a U.S. citizen, has about two years of law schooling but has never passed a state bar anywhere in the country.
"This has probably prevented him from ever practicing law," Chambers, the real lawyer, told the judge.
Chambers later said outside court it was the first case of practicing law without a license he had seen in more than 15 years of practice.
Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance told Judge Jason Deal that Casado presented himself as a lawyer when he represented a forgery defendant in a guilty plea in front of Senior Judge John Girardeau. Dressed in a suit, Casado came into Girardeau’s court, addressed the judge as if he were a lawyer and signed off on the plea agreement in the space marked for attorneys. The act was recorded on courthouse surveillance video, Vance said.
"After that, suspicion was raised that he was not a properly licensed attorney," Vance said. The state bar investigated and discovered Casado was not a member, she said. Girardeau later voided the plea and took another guilty plea with a public defender representing the forgery defendant.
It was the only known instance that Casado came into court and pretended to be a lawyer, Chambers said. Casado, who operated a now-closed office on Jesse Jewell Parkway, also fraudulently took money from two other clients for immigration law services.
The state did not seek jail time in Tuesday’s negotiated plea.
"One of the biggest concerns is that he not practice law in Georgia," Vance said.
Casado was ordered to serve four years on probation, pay restitution to three victims totaling $6,000, and pay a fine of $2,000. He also was banished from all counties in Georgia except for one — Clayton County — for the length of his sentence. Judges cannot banish defendants from every county in Georgia. Casado has said he plans to move back to Massachusetts, Chambers said.
"He’s ready to move on and put this behind him," Chambers said.
Vance said that even after Casado was charged with theft by deception, he still came to the district attorney’s office to talk with prosecutors about the cases of his "clients."
Investigators found other people who Casado had taken money from for his services, but "several victims were satisfied and did not want to cooperate," with prosecutors, Vance said.
Deal told Casado that he cannot "practice law without a license in Georgia or anywhere else. Without a license, that just goes without saying."
Chambers said Casado now realizes that his act has lifelong consequences.
"It’s going to be difficult now for him to complete law school and sit for a state bar exam, and that’s an overwhelming punishment in and of itself," he said.