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STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE v. ZADORA, No. CR 98-0058137 (Aug. 20, 1998)Statewide Grievance Committee v. Karen Zadora et al.1998 Ct. Sup. 1898, 23 CLR 59

STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE v. ZADORA, No. CR 98-0058137 (Aug. 20, 1998)
Statewide Grievance Committee v. Karen Zadora et al.
1998 Ct. Sup. 1898, 23 CLR 59
No. CR 98-0058137
Superior Court
Judicial District at Putnam
Memorandum Filed August 20, 1998

                     MEMORANDUM OF DECISION


    The plaintiff Statewide Grievance Committee (SGC)
has filed a complaint against defendants Karen Zadora (Zadora)
and Richard A. Forsey (Forsey), d/b/a Divorce Documentation
Service of Connecticut, a/k/a The Documentation Company, charging
the defendants with the unauthorized> <practice> <of> <law>. No dispute
exists that Zadora and Forsey are not lawyers. The gravamen of
the complaint is that what Zadora and Forsey label a strictly
clerical service in providing and typing forms for dissolution
actions actually constitutes the provision of legal advice to
customers. The SGC accordingly seeks an injunction prohibiting
this unauthorized practice. Trial to the Court took place in
Willimantic on July 9, 1998. For the reasons that follow, this
CT Page 1899
Court enters judgment for the SGC.



    From the testimony and the exhibits introduced at trial, the
Court finds the following facts. In 1991 Zadora began a business
known as the Legal Documentation Company. In December 1991, the
SGC initiated an investigation to determine whether the company
was engaging in the <unauthorized> <practice> <of> <law>. After a hearing
in April 1992, at which only Zadora testified, the SGC concluded
that Zadora's services consisted only of typing legal forms for
divorces, leases, real estate sales, and commercial transactions
as directed by the customer and that that form of clerical
service did not constitute <unauthorized> <practice> <of> <law>. The SGC
also noted that Zadora was willing to delete the word "Legal"
from her business name to avoid an appearance of impropriety.

    Sometime in late 1992, defendant Forsey, who is Zadora's
father, joined the business. In 1993, the SGC initiated another
investigation against the defendants because it had received a
business card of the "Legal Documentation Company" with the names
of both Zadora and Forsey on it. The SGC conducted a hearing on
April 6, 1994, at which time it took testimony from Zadora and
Forsey. In a decision finalized on September 22, 1994, the SGC
again concluded that the defendants had not engaged in
unauthorized legal practice. The SGC found that the defendants
had confined the business to uncontested divorces and were
providing only clerical services. Apparently the defendants had
been using up their old business cards but had recently changed
their name to "The Documentation Company."

    In June 1997, Zadora informed the SGC that the business had
changed its name to "Divorce Documentation Service of
Connecticut" (hereinafter the DDSC). For at least several months
in early 1998, the defendants advertised the DDSC in various
regional advertising journals in Connecticut such as the
"Turnpike Buyer" of Putnam. The ads stated that the business was
"Registered with the Conn. State Judiciary" and contained phone
numbers for Zadora in Clinton and Forsey in the
Plainfield/Sterling area. On May 28, 1998, after the SGC filed
its complaint in this case, Zadora wrote the SGC that the
business had removed the phrase "Registered with the Conn. State
Judiciary" from its ads.[fn1]
CT Page 1900


    On November 4, 1996, Doreen A. Staplins of Taftville spoke to
Forsey on the telephone concerning the preparation of divorce
papers. Forsey inquired and took notes about such matters as the
amount of time the parties were separated, the number of
children, the amount of child support, and the nature of any
property agreement. Staplins met Forsey at his office in Sterling
for an interview on December 11, 1996. At the interview, which
lasted at least forty-five minutes. Forsey asked about the
children's names and birthdays, whether Staplins was receiving
any public assistance, whether she wanted alimony and in what
amount, whether Staplins was seeking child custody and support,
and whether she was seeking a name change. In discussing these
issues, Forsey referred to specific pages of a book he had with
him entitled Do Your Own Divorce in Connecticut, which is written
by three lawyers. Forsey supplied Staplins two blank standard
financial affidavit forms and asked Staplins to return one filled
out by her and one by her husband by March 17, 1997. Forsey also
gave Staplins a sample of testimony in an uncontested divorce.
Staplins signed a contract agreeing to pay $630 to The
Documentation Company of Clinton, Connecticut for the "Clerical
Preparation of Non-Contested Divorce Forms." The contract stated
that the Company was "not allowed to give legal opinion, legal
advice or make legal judgments of any kind."

    By early February 1997, Staplins had paid the $630. During
this time period. Forsey typed or printed from a computer a
proposed summons, complaint, application for waiver of costs and
fees, stipulation of facts, appearance form for her husband, and several
other forms. Several documents listed a return date of April 15, 1997, a
date that derived from the contemplated return by Staplins of the
financial affidavits by March 17, 1997 and the filing of the complaint
and summons at about that time. The proposed complaint contained
allegations such as "[t]he marriage of the parties has broken
down irretrievably" and requests for relief such as "[a]limony to
the wife of $1.00 per year." The proposed stipulation called for
"[p]hysical [c]ustody of the minor children to remain with the
wife, subject to the husband's right of reasonable visitation"
and "[w]elfare will take care of all the Medical [sic] for the
minor children." Forsey admitted at trial that this language did
not represent a verbatim typing of the verbal or handwritten
statements of Staplins, but rather that he "developed" the
language using his "common sense" based on the form books and the
CT Page 1901
biographical information provided and requests made by Staplins.
As Forsey put it, he "customized" the forms to an extent.

    Staplins did not complete the return of both financial
affidavits until May 1, 1997. On May 8, 1997, Forsey wrote
Staplins that her late return of the financial affidavits
necessitated his redoing five documents, apparently to change the
return date. Forsey demanded an additional $100 for these
changes. Forsey wrote: "Unfortunately this letter will make you
angry. Where will you direct your anger, at us or yourself?"

    Staplins attempted to call Forsey but could not reach him.
She did not pay the additional $100. Staplins never received the
draft complaint or other pleadings. At the time of this trial,
Staplins remained married with four children.


    On May 2, 1997, Forsey went to the Killingly home of Loretta
Raymond, who had phoned Forsey requesting his assistance in
obtaining a divorce. Forsey provided Raymond with numerous
documents including a hand-drawn diagram of a courtroom and a one
page "Sample Testimony" that the defendants chose and edited
slightly to fit Raymond's case. Forsey interviewed Raymond and
made notes on his own form that the complaint should include a
request for dissolution and equitable distribution of property
but not include a request for alimony, child support, or custody.
Raymond signed a contract calling for her to pay $735 in monthly
$100 installments for the "Clerical Preparation of Non-Contested
Divorce Forms." The contract also called for Raymond to fill out
her financial affidavit and return it to Forsey by May 15, 1997.

    By September 4, 1997, Raymond had paid the full $735. On
September 5, 1997, Forsey wrote Raymond that her financial
affidavits did not arrive on time and therefore an additional
$100 was necessary to redraft documents, apparently, again, to
change the return date. Although Raymond believed that she had
supplied the financial affidavits on time, she paid the $100 to

    Soon thereafter Forsey supplied the documents to Raymond. The
proposed complaint alleged simply that the plaintiff wife and
husband were married in 1953 in Connecticut and that one party
had resided in Connecticut for at least the past year. For relief
it sought a decree of dissolution, an equitable distribution of
CT Page 1902
property, and such other relief as the Court deemed equitable. A
proposed stipulation stated that the marriage had broken down
irretrievably and that neither party shall pay alimony to the
other. Forsey also supplied a draft summons, military affidavit.
application for waiver of costs and fees, claim for family
relations list, and Department of Public Health form.

    Raymond filed the complaint on October 3, 1997. This Court
granted a dissolution of Raymond's marriage on March 5, 1998.



    General Statutes Sec. 51-88 (a) provides that any person who
has not been admitted as an attorney in this State shall not (1)
"[p]ractice law" or (2) "make it a business to practice law." The
Court can punish violations of this statute by a fine,
imprisonment, a finding of contempt, or injunctive relief. See
id.; Practice Book Sec. 2-47(c). In this case, the SGC seeks
injunctive relief against the respondents.

    Because of the breadth of legal practice, "attempts to define
the practice of law have not been particularly successful."
Statewide Grievance Committee v. Patton. 239 Conn. 251, 254
(1996) (internal citation omitted). Our Supreme Court has,
however, "consistently held that the preparation of legal
documents is commonly understood to be the practice of law." Id.
The reason is that "[t]he preparation of legal documents involves
difficult or doubtful legal questions . . . which, to safeguard
the public, reasonably demand the application of a trained legal
mind." Id. at 255 (internal citation and quotations omitted).
Thus the Supreme Court has upheld the enjoining of a non-lawyer
divorce <document> <preparation> service. Statewide Grievance
Committee v. Harris, 239 Conn. 256 (1996), a service that
prepared divorce, bankruptcy, corporation, and estate documents,
Statewide Grievance Committee v. Patton, 239 Conn. at 253, and a
service that prepared wills and trusts. Grievance Committee v.
Dacey, 154 Conn. 129 (1966).

    It is true that providing blank legal forms to customers to
fill out does not necessarily constitute the practice of law.
Dacey, 154 Conn. at 140-41. On the other hand, providing
completed legal documents based on information that the customers
furnish on a questionnaire does constitute the practice of law,
CT Page 1903
as the Supreme Court held in Patton, 239 Conn. at 253-54. Indeed,
"the determination that a given form should be followed without change
is as much an exercise of legal judgment as is a determination
that it should be changed in given particulars. In either case,
legal judgment is used in the adaptation of the form to the
specific needs and situations of the client." Dacey,
154 Conn. at 141.


    As the respondents point out, the question here is one of the
degree, if any, to which the respondents provide more than a mere
typing service. This Court would not find that making spelling,
grammatical, or mathematical corrections to the information
provided by customers on legal forms constitutes the practice of
law. Beyond that observation, this Court need not define the
precise point at which the practice of law begins because in this
case it is clear that what the respondents do goes beyond that

    The clearest proof consists of the complaints and
stipulations that the respondents drafted. As the respondents
essentially concede, the customers did not supply or choose
language found in the complaints such as "One party for more than
the last year has resided continuously in the State of
Connecticut" or "Welfare will take care of all the Medical for
the minor children." Rather, the respondents chose this language.
True, they apparently took this language from a form book. but in
cutting and pasting this language or, as the respondents put it,
in "customizing" the forms, the respondents exercised legal
judgment in deciding what language to cut and paste. See Dacey,
154 Conn. at 141.

    A comparison of the two complaints and stipulations submitted
in this case further demonstrates this point. The Raymond
complaint contains only two allegations and three requests for
relief. The Staplins complaint contains four allegations and
eight requests for relief. The Raymond stipulation contains two
paragraphs. The Staplins stipulation contains five paragraphs. In
deciding, in the Staplins case, to put in the additional
allegations, requests and paragraphs, most of which stem from the
fact that Staplins had four minor children and Raymond had none,
the respondents exercised an elementary form of legal judgment.

    Ironically, even this elementary legal judgment was faulty in
CT Page 1904
many respects. As the SGC observes, the Staplins complaint fails
to include a required allegation concerning prior receipt of
welfare. See Practice Book Sec. 25-2 (b). The prayer for relief
confusingly requests that the defendant provide both "Children's
support for the Plaintiff" and "Support of the minor children."
Complicating matters is the fact that the complaint alleges that
someone other than the defendant husband is the father of one of
Staplins's five children. Similarly, the Raymond complaint fails
to contain necessary allegations that the marriage has broken
down irretrievably, that there are no minor children, and that
neither party has received State or town assistance. See Conn.
Gen. Stat. Sec. 46b-40(c): Practice Book Sec. 25-2; Form 504.1.

    These errors and omissions are not the fault of the
customers; they are the fault of the respondents. The respondents
are not just providing a typing service The respondents interview
their customers in person often at the customer's home. From the
interview, the respondents take notes on an interview sheet. From
the notes the respondents draft legal documents. This practice,
when conducted by non-lawyers such as the respondents, is exactly
what the Supreme Court in Patton found to constitute the
<unauthorized> <practice> <of> <law>.


    The respondents claim that, when a customer has a question
about what to request for their divorce, the respondents merely
point to a page in the form book and say: "The issue is discussed
on this page." The Court does not find this claim credible. When
two people meet in person to discuss a business matter,
conversation normally ensues. The respondents appeared to the
Court to be shrewd business people; the customers who testified
appeared overly trusting Given this environment, the Court cannot
believe that the respondents confine themselves to the form
book's table of contents. It is much more likely that, in an
effort to appear helpful, the respondents provide some
explanation of the substance of the page in question.

    The respondents also stress that their contracts and
advertisements repeatedly state that they are non-lawyers and
that they do not give legal advice or make legal judgments. Quite
simply, the Court finds that these statements are self-serving
and inaccurate. The respondents, in fact, do not have a good
track record for truthful advertising. As noted. the respondents
formerly advertised that they were "Registered with Conn. State
CT Page 1905
Judiciary." See Petitioner's Exhibit K. This advertising claim
was also inaccurate, as Zadora admitted at trial.

    Zadora contended at trial that she has a separate business
from Forsey's, which business also happens to be named "Divorce
Documentation Service of Connecticut," and that she is not
responsible for his actions. The respondents did not raise this
contention in an answer, see Practice Book Sec. 2-47(c), and the
respondents did not argue it in their post-hearing brief. It is,
of course, extremely unlikely that two genuinely separate
businesses would each tolerate the other using the same business
name. Indeed, Zadora's contention is belied by the fact that
every document in evidence containing a letterhead of the company
and every advertisement or business card in evidence contains
either the names of both Zadora and Forsey or both their
addresses or phone numbers. The testimony also established that
Zadora created the company's standard business contract and
created or revised some of the instructional information handed
to customers by Forsey. The SGC's brief summarizes
other evidence that Zadora and Forsey have worked together for
years. See Petitioner's Post-Hearing Brief at 1-5. In short, the
evidence reveals that Zadora and Forsey are partners in the same
business. Given Zadora's attempt to create a fictitious separate
business, it is especially important that this Court's injunction
include her.


    The final issue is the remedy for the unauthorized practice.
Because the SGC is requesting the equitable remedy of an
injunction and the assessment of costs and expenses, it is
relevant to discuss the issue of harm to the public. There is no
more accurate way of stating what happened to Doreen Staplins
than to say that she got ripped off. For $630 she received
nothing. It is true that her contract with the respondents
provided that she would not receive her documents until she paid
in full and that she had an obligation to submit financial
affidavits by a designated date. But for the respondents to
request from her an extra $100. after she had already paid the
unreasonably high fee of $630 for. "Clerical Service only,"
merely to change the return date on five documents is to take
advantage of an innocent consumer. As for Loretta Raymond, it is
not clear why her alleged failure to supply financial affidavits
by May 15, 1997 should necessitate a late charge of $100 when the
contract itself contemplated that Raymond could have until about
CT Page 1906
November to pay the full $735, at which point the parties agreed
that Raymond would receive the draft pleadings. Moreover, the
Court finds the total charge of $835 for the preparation of
papers for an uncontested divorce involving no minor children to
constitute an unreasonably high fee. especially given that the
respondents made glaring and potentially fatal omissions in the
pleadings they supplied. Indeed, many if not most of the forms
provided by the respondents are available for free at the Clerk's
office or can be found in Volume 2 of the Connecticut Practice
Book at the courthouse library.

    For all these reasons, the Court finds it appropriate to
grant relief essentially as requested by the SGC. The SGC agrees
that General Statutes Sec. 51-88 (a) does not prohibit the sale
of books and pamphlets on how to do your own divorce or the
provision of typing services for customer-completed forms chosen
by the consumers. The Court accordingly will permit these
activities. The Court adds that the respondents may, as part of
their business, provide blank forms for customers to fill out
even though most of these forms are available for free at the
Clerk's office. As far as the Court can discern, these are the
only lawful activities in which the respondents have engaged.
Accordingly, in all other respects, the Court hereby enjoins
respondents Karen Zadora, Richard A. Forsey, and the Divorce
Documentation Service of Connecticut a/k/a the Divorce
Documentation Company from doing the business of divorce
<documentation> <preparation> or otherwise engaging in the
<unauthorized> <practice> <of> <law.

    Costs and expenses are taxed against the respondents.


[fn1] The ads, as did the business cards, also described the
Company as "Non Attorneys and Not a Law Firm."

Inside STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE v. ZADORA, No. CR 98-0058137 (Aug. 20, 1998)Statewide Grievance Committee v. Karen Zadora et al.1998 Ct. Sup. 1898, 23 CLR 59