Clinical Law Students Help Stop Fraudulent Legal Assistance

In early April, the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a settlement that prohibits a Washington County woman from offering fraudulent translation and legal services to Spanish-speakers. The settlement also requires Olimpia Santizo to pay a total of $2,000 in restitution to two victims.

The Santizo investigation was conducted by two law students enrolled in the Clinical Law Program at Willamette University. Second-year student Katherine Silva and third-year student Casey Bieberich worked on the case while enrolled in the Law and Government Clinic. Caren Rovics, senior assistant attorney general at the DOJ and adjunct law professor in the Clinical Law Program, supervised their progress.

“As our students’ work on the Santizo case illustrates, the Law and Government Clinic embodies a joint commitment by the Department of Justice and Willamette University College of Law to work together to protect the rights of all Oregonians in these challenging times,” said Professor Norman R. Williams, director of the Center for Law and Government.

Willamette’s Clinical Law Program has enjoyed a successful working relationship with the DOJ since 2006, when clinic professors were deputized special assistant attorney generals. Through the partnership, clinic students, in conjunction with the Oregon DOJ, prosecute civil cases involving financial fraud and consumer protection issues on behalf of the state.

“With the current financial crisis, it is more important than ever to think about the benefits that public-private partnerships provide everyone involved, including the taxpayer and potential victims of fraud,” said Professor Warren Binford, director of the Clinical Law Program. “The Santizo case is a perfect example of how Willamette and the DOJ continue to work together to serve Oregon while teaching the next generation of lawyers the challenges and importance of government lawyering.”

According to state officials, Olimpia Santizo, who operated Access to the System LLC, advertised translation services in a Spanish business directory and accepted money to complete divorce legal forms. Although she is not a lawyer, Spanish speakers who paid her thought Santizo had the authority to represent them in their legal matter. Access to the System is no longer in business.

Earlier this year, a Washington County judge entered a judgment against Santizo involving similar allegations that she victimized a Spanish-speaker by misrepresenting translation services as legal services in connection with the filing of a divorce. Misrepresenting “services” is a common scam that targets the Spanish-speaking community.