People v. StarskiAnnotate this Case
Starski identified himself as a lawyer in a demand letter to a business, claiming that his “client” (Cornett, his mother’s husband) had been injured at the business. The manager was suspicious and contacted authorities, who subsequently staged a pretext call during which Starski identified himself as an attorney. Cornett subsequently stated that he had not been injured at the business, but changed his story again for trial. A search of Starski’s computer uncovered documents revealing that he had been involved in several similar schemes, representing himself as an attorney. He is not a licensed attorney, but described himself as a “freelance paralegal.” After his trial on felony charges of attempted grand theft and conspiracy and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful practice of law (Business and Professions Code section 6126), the judge instructed the jury that section 6126 requires more than simply holding oneself out as an attorney, that “practicing law” entails use of that purported status. Starski and Cornett were convicted. Each was given to probation. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments of insufficient evidence; that the instructions on section 6126 were “overbroad” because they allowed conviction for what a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision made protected free speech; and that the judge erred by refusing to give Starski’s special instruction on a “claim-of-right” defense to the charges of attempting and conspiring to commit grand theft.