Sham Divorce Lawyer Leaves Victims in the Lurch

A disbarred lawyer from Vermont has left a trail of broken lives behind him in Airzona. Here’s the story about it from the Republic. And here’s another from AZCentral.

Prosecutors in Arizona say they have identified 115 victims and expect there could be as many as 200 more. The attorney, Gary Jay Karpin, represented that he was an attorney and prepared divorce documents “pro per” (for the parties to file on their own behalf without listing an attorney). He either filed the documents improperly or never filed them at all, yet (apparently) assured his “clients” that their case was complete.

Karpin has been operating in the Maricopa County (Phoenix) area since 1996. Some of the people who trusted Karpin, who thought they were divorced or that they had custody of their children, are finding out only now that nothing ever changed.

News like this is agonizing for lawyers like me. I deal daily with people who trust me with the fine china of their lives at the time when they’re most vulnerable. How can they know whether I’m a legitimate and licensed attorney who does exactly what he says he will do, or a slimy opportunist like Karpin who brushes aside his own moral code and abuses their trust? In the wake of stories like this one from Arizona — unfortunately, it’s not the first one of these and won’t be the last — I am honestly searching for some way to provide reassurance to people so they know they can trust me.

A piece of me wants to recommend that you periodically look behind the statements you hear from your attorney (or anyone else, for that matter). For example, when your attorney tells you a case has been filed, make sure you get the case number and then call the court yourself to confirm that your case has actually been filed. The problem with this approach, of course, is that if we all did it we would quickly overwhelm the poor court staff who are already overburdened now.

Maybe some enterprising CPAs will develop a niche providing limited-purpose audits of legal services and granting some kind of “seal of approval” for firms whose integrity they monitor periodically. Or maybe bar associations could beef up their ethics staff so they could activeloy monitor compliance. Any other ideas? I’d love to hear them.

3 comments

  1. awscott1 says:

    I would think that the courts would benefit from establishing a website with VERY general information about the cases. Like the case number, parties names and what is filed. Kind of like the DHR’s child support website, except without passwords. So a sample listing would be:

    DR 20051234 John Q Public vs. Jane D Public
    01/01/2005 – Petition filed
    Docket 987654 03/05/2005 Judge Harry V. Doe Floor 6, Room 5
    03/05/2005 – Parties ordered to attend CCWD
    Docket 876541 06/10/2005 Judge Harry V. Doe Floor 6, Room 6
    06/10/2005 – Decree signed
    08/11/2005 – Divorce is Final

    I know that it might be a lot of work to set up, and it seems like a lot of data entry, but compared to the time the clerks spend on the phone and trudging through files to get random info for people, I think it’d be a lifesaver for them!!! This way the parties could “check-in” to see what was going on and the clerks could stay off the phone and out of the file rooms.

  2. Diane Schultz says:

    I pulled your website while doing a Google search on Gary Karpin. I wish I knew you when I was going through a divorce in 2001. Unfortunately, I used Gary Karpin. I had an unusual twist to my story because my ex-husband is a lawyer. I did not know Gary had been dis-barred in Vermont until after the divorce was finalized in 2001. My ex did all the paperwork, but I thought it was because it would save money instead of Karpin filing… even my ex fell for that, because he didn’t know until afterwards that Karpin was not licensed to practice in AZ.

    I am one of those who called the Maricopa County hotline (I was #146 of the first 150 calls). The detective asked that I document my experience using Karpin and said he will try to get my money back.

    How did I get screwed by using Karpin? Because both he and my ex were lawyers, they knew that the IRS does not recognize any tax settlement statements, agreements, etc. in a divorce decree for the years when a couple were married. They knew that my ex husband’s agreement to take 100% responsibility for his unpaid quarterly self-employed taxes would not be recognized by the IRS if per chance, he never started paying the IRS for those 3 last yrs of our marriage.

    Guess what? He didn’t. I received an Intent to Levy Wages letter to the tune of over $50,000. It was then that I learned he had never paid. I was one of the lucky ones because the IRS finally accepted (after my 3rd plea) to relieve me of this debt under Innocent Spouse. I spent money the first time for a lwyr, but the appeal was turned down. I ended up appealing on my own and two months ago received the waiver of this huge tax bill, but it was a very stressful, angry time for me knowing two legal jerks could get me in such hot water.

    I wonder about my ex who is still a licensed AZ lawyer, if he crossed the legal ethics boundary by abusing his legal knowledge and tipping the scales of justice way over to his side. I lost the equity in our house which then was only $26,000 of my due, but gave it up so he could pay the taxes. Again, got screwed, because he refinanced here in Phoenix 2 mos. ago, and pocketed $155,000.

  3. Sounds like you were lucky Diane. A friend of mine had a very similar experience to you except she was not so fortunate as to have the debt cleared. It really screwed her up and it took her many months to regain any kind of self esteem. I found this blog post while trying to find out what actually happened to Karpin. I hope you’ve moved on.

    Warmest thoughts; PnP Free Data Entry Services

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