"California" and "lawyer" are two words that always catch the Rogue Desk's attention.
And so we turn to Daniel Bernath, a member of the California State Bar now under investigation by the Oregon State Bar for unlawful practice of law.
Bernath has been running newspaper ads in Oregon to drum up business from people trying to secure Social Security disability payments. His ads promise to cut wait time to "a few weeks," reminding readers that they have every right to switch lawyers.
But those entrepreneurial efforts have inspired protests from Portland's cadre of Social Security lawyers. And the bar complaint filed by one of them says Bernath is misrepresenting himself as an Oregon lawyer.
The facts are these: In 1998, Bernath was denied membership in the Oregon Bar for "lack of good moral character." The Oregon decision pointed to Bernath's one-year suspension from the California Bar in 1995 for failure to pay child support and cashing a client's settlement check without her permission. Bernath, according to the decision, also failed to report a $34,000 judgment against him for malicious prosecution and destroyed all his case files from California when he moved to Oregon in the late 1990s.
The Social Security Administration allows anyone to represent clients in its courts.
But lawyers who've lost clients to Bernath say he is misleading people into believing he is an Oregon lawyer. Oregon law says you can't practice law or represent yourself as qualified to practice law unless you're an active member of the Oregon State Bar.
They point to his letterhead including an Oregon address. And they cite his website (disabilitybenefitsnw.com), which states that he is a member of the bar of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers nine western states, including Oregon). While that claim is true, that bar membership would allow him to practice only in federal appeals cases held in 9th Circuit courtrooms.
For his part, Bernath strongly denies accusations of misrepresentation and says competitors are angry because their clients are dissatisfied with their performance.