Under §38.122 of the Texas Penal Code, falsely holding oneself out as a lawyer is a third-degree felony, which carries a punishment of two years to 10 years in prison.Opening statements in the trial begin on Tuesday. Based on the attorney fee checks he allegedly accepted and a quick Google search which yielded many hits for the self-described "self-employed lawyer" (who also was reported as making very generous campaign donations to the Texas Democratic Party), it appears that Mr. Celis enjoyed substantial economic benefits from working as a lawyer. (The Google search indicates that he was also accused of impersonating a police officer and that several local judges recused themselves from his case). If he cannot provide sufficient evidence to show that he meets the requirements to practice law in Texas, then he faces some dire consequences for the unauthorized practice of law.
The big issues in the case are whether the 37-year-old Celis, who attended law school in Mexico, is in fact a Mexican lawyer and, if not, whether he falsely held himself out as a lawyer for economic benefit.
In 2007, Celis testified during a deposition in a separate civil suit that he is a lawyer in Mexico. However, the indictments allege he is not.
The 2007 indictment alleges Celis falsely held himself out as a lawyer on or about Nov. 1, 2005, by stating on business letterhead, on a business card, on a business fax cover sheet and on a business Web page that he was licensed in Mexico "and the defendant was not then and there licensed to practice law in this state, another state, or a foreign country and was not then and there in good standing with the State Bar of Texas and the state bar or licensing authority of any state or foreign country where the defendant was licensed to practice law."
That indictment also alleges that Celis falsely held himself out as a lawyer when he signed a legal document in a place designated for an attorney's signature, and when he told an individual that he was licensed to practice law when he's not licensed in Texas, elsewhere in the United States or in another country.
The 2008 indictment alleges that Celis falsely held himself out as a lawyer with intent to obtain an economic benefit by...accepting a check for $84,286 as attorney fees on June 2, 2006; for $100,020 on June 22, 2006; for $80,000 on June 27, 2006; for $286,000 on July 5, 2006; for $27,000 on Aug. 7, 2006; for $122,500 on Sept. 13, 2006; for $157,500 on Oct. 12, 2006; for $440,000 on Dec. 7, 2006; for $37,789 on Dec. 13, 2006; for $7,500 on Jan. 25, 2007; and for $5,906 on Jan. 29,
See The National Law Journal.