In order to practice law within the United States, either in state courts or in federal courts, an attorney must have a license to practice law in that particular jurisdiction. An attorney who practices but fails to receive their license in that jurisdiction is guilty of the unauthorized practice of law and can face civil consequences, including the loss of their privilege to practice law in any jurisdiction. The district attorney may also choose to pursue charges for fraud or misrepresentation.
A person, however, who practices law without a law degree and without a law license can be convicted of a much more serious offense. This is the case of Karla Carbo, a young woman in Summit County who held herself out as an attorney and even represented clients and even opened up her own law office. When law enforcement became aware that Carbo was not a licensed attorney, Carbo was arrested and charged with two counts of forgery and communications fraud. Both charges are felony offenses for which Carbo could be facing prison time.
When appearing in court, the Utah courts require all attorneys to state their name on the record and to state their bar number—a step which is designed to discourage people from practicing law without a license. Carbo was able to impersonate an attorney while in court by using someone else’s name and using that person’s bar number. While in court, Carbo went by the name Karla Stirling, who is an actual attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Utah and California. It was not until a Utah court contacted the real Stirling to ask about a recent court matter that the court became aware of Carbo’s fraudulent actions.
As of now, it is unclear how Carbo obtained Stirling’s name and bar number, but as law enforcement continues their investigation into Carbo, it is likely that they will uncover other court matters in which Carbo misrepresented herself. Carbo could face criminal charges from every county in which she unlawfully represented clients in court.
As for the clients of Carbo, they are being asked to contact the Utah State or their local police department. While each client that Carbo represented should be able to get a court order requiring Carbo to return any fees that were paid to her under false pretenses, whether or not Carbo will actually be able to repay these fees is another matter entirely.
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