The California State Bar has confiscated client files belonging to a man with a 25-year history of posing as an attorney, reportedly nearly bringing in thousands of dollars in legal fees from Los Angeles-area victims. Dozens of nicknames have been used.
The man, who identifies himself in court records as 54-year-old Efferin Zembliste Dean of Balboa Lake, was arrested earlier this month for practicing law without a license.
The State Bar said in a statement late last week that Dean is fluent in Spanish and has a history at the Los Angeles County Courthouse targeting Spanish-speaking individuals seeking legal help and then appearing in court on their behalf. It was after his appearance in Los Angeles County Superior Court that a judge reported the alleged fraud to the Office of the State Bar’s Chief Trial Counsel in late August.
“The unauthorized practice of law presents a serious threat to some of the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said chief trial attorney George Cardona. “This is also a crime. The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to combat this threat.”
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office charged Dean earlier this month with three counts of grand theft and practicing law without a member of the state bar. He remains in the Los Angeles County Jail on $176,000 bail.
From January 2019 to September 2021, Dean allegedly claimed to own Dean & Associates’ law offices in Canoga Park.
In addition to appearing in court, the dean reportedly also filed court documents and provided business cards to court staff and victims to strengthen his position as an advocate to receive legal fees.
“It is illegal in California to practice law without a license, which is unfair to the unsuspecting client and could cause irreparable harm to the client,” District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement.
Dean’s criminal history dates back to 1996 and includes at least two identity theft sentences for impersonating lawyers. He has also been convicted of two counts of preparation of false documentary evidence and one count of perjury by declaration, all offences.
The Court, detailing the 1997 sentence, said that when he was arrested, he was incarcerated as Kenneth Aslan, a name he stole from a Ventura County attorney.
In a 2007 news story, the real Kenneth Aslan said that he met Dean in the early 1990s and exchanged business cards with him. According to Aslan, Dean used his bar number to register cases over the next decade, leading Aslan to receive calls about cases he had never heard of.
Aslan said Dean introduced himself as Aslan to potential clients he met at the courthouse. After his arrest in 2003, the dean allegedly gave the bailiffs the name of Aslan, after which police had to come to Aslan’s home in the middle of the night.
“I thought I was being robbed, but the police were actually looking for him,” Aslan said.
After Dean’s arrest in 1996, police found papers bearing Aslan’s name in Dean’s briefcase and thought he may have killed Aslan.
Aslan said, “The police came to the house and started asking my children whether they had seen me that day or not.”
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge last week issued an interim order allowing the state bar to seize Dean’s client files and records of former clients from its offices in the San Fernando Valley. Customers or former customers may contact State Bar’s bilingual phone number 213-765-1766 for return of their files.