UPDATED 1/7/11 8:52 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) —A 47-year-old convicted burglar who had no legal training allegedly posed as a lawyer for years, representing clients in criminal and traffic cases, in foreclosures and before administrative bodies.
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Authorities are trying to sort out what suspect Tahir Malik did, and how it affected those he represented.
So far, Malik has been charged with impersonating a lawyer — a felony — in three cases. But Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Malik had notes on 60 cases in his briefcase when arrested at the Skokie courthouse Dec. 17, and court regulars have told investigators that they have seen him for years, although Dart said Malik has left little in the way of a paper trail. One man told investigators he hired Malik because Malik had represented a relative five years ago.
“This really opens up a large can of worms,” Dart said. “It really does.”
CBS 2’s Mike Parker caught up with Malik’s father at the Skokie apartment where he has been living with his parents since getting out of prison on a burglary rap. Rahim Malik says his son was doing no harm, but rather helping people who needed counseling and charging only $5 or $10.
“He was just trying to help people who cannot speak English fluently and who are not familiar with the system,” the elder Malik said.
“It wasn’t just, ‘Here, $50 and I’ll handle your speeding ticket,’” the sheriff said. “There were cases when he was charging $4,500 for cases. So, significant cases, significant money.”
Dart said his investigators have evidence that Malik represented clients in criminal and traffic cases at the in the Skokie and Bridgeview courthouses, as well as at the Daley Center, and also represented clients in foreclosures and before administrative bodies.
A Skokie bailiff and judge called his bluff when he said he was substituting for another attorney. The judge asked him what law firm, and Malik replied with the name of a firm with which the judge was quite familiar. A quick call ascertained that Malik had no connection with the firm — and Dart said it didn’t take long to determine that Malik’s only exposure to the law came not from law school, but from being a defendant.
“We have no evidence he’s ever even passed by a law school, let alone attended one,” Dart said.
Malik’s record shows convictions in burglary, forgery and retail theft cases.
On one level, Dart is impressed that Malik got away with it for so long.
“As a real lawyer, I can attest to the fact that there was nothing easy about actually becoming a lawyer,” he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “So if we have an individual here who has found a way around the expenses of law school and the drudgery and tension of the bar exam, boy, he’d have a lot of people really excited.”
Dart said Malik was able to get court supervision for his clients in some of the traffic and minor criminal cases. But a number of others eventually entered pleas of guilty and were sentenced. He said the question of quality of representation is one that can differ from case to case.
“All these different people should definitely have the ability to go back in front of the judge who heard the case, have these facts brought out, and let the judge then determine if, in that judge’s opinion, there was a miscarriage of justice,” he said.
Cook County State’s Attorney’s office spokesman Andy Conklin said those who believe they did not get adequate representation from Malik could file motions to reopen their cases. Dart said, in his experience, courts do little to require those who say they are lawyers to prove they are lawyers, generally requiring them to do nothing more than sign a piece of paper with their name and phone number. He said that is a matter the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) and the Illinois Supreme Court should review.
Dart said if Malik were simply an incompetent lawyer, ARDC could order sanctions, such as suspending his license or disbarring him.
“Here you have people coming forward and saying this person wasn’t even a lawyer,” Dart said. “Then you get into jurisdictional questions — does ARDC have jurisdiction over someone who’s never been a lawyer? Who is the right body to do it? Or is it simply a criminal matter?”
Dart said his office wants to know the full extent of Malik’s extralegal activities as a lawyer, and is urging anyone who was represented by him — no matter what the outcome — to call his office at (773) 869-6466.