After a three-hour hearing Tuesday, a federal judge in St. Paul said there’s no question that disbarred lawyer Al Garcia violated the conditions of his release from prison by acting as an attorney for a Minneapolis towing company.
“This is not a close call for me,” said U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank. But he delayed imposing sanctions until May 28 to determine if several pending traffic citations will affect Garcia’s sentence.
Garcia, once a fixture around Minneapolis City Hall and the Hennepin County Courthouse, got snared in a dramatic Anoka County drug bust in 2009 when he was arrested with a former legal assistant on methamphetamine charges. He went into federal custody in November 2009 and pleaded guilty.
In 2010, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis sentenced Garcia to five years in prison. In August 2011, he resentenced him to time served and placed him under supervised release for four years. Davis said Garcia could work as a lobbyist.
Six months after Garcia’s release from prison, an investigator with the Hennepin County attorney’s office reported that he had been visiting felons in jail, together with an attorney. Garcia, 53, admitted that he had been working as a paralegal. His probation officers accused him of violating the terms of his release.
Frank got the case after Davis recused himself. Garcia faced a recommended four to 10 months in prison, but Frank cut him a break and ordered him to do 50 hours of community service. He was barred from working as an attorney, a paralegal or a consultant on any criminal matters.
Frank warned Garcia that if he violates the restrictions again, “you would likely obligate me to look at some type of incarceration.”
Grant Wilson, manager of the Minneapolis licensing department, testified that he contacted probation because Garcia was “acting like an attorney” in negotiations to resolve violations by his client, Cedar Towing and Auction.
Cedar Towing’s owner, Thomas Rodrigue, testified that he had hired Garcia to help him understand city ordinances and to lobby for business, not to act as an attorney.
Garcia’s attorney, Peter Wold, noted that Wilson himself negotiated settlements on behalf of the city, yet Wilson is not a lawyer. Nothing bars a lobbyist and consultant like Garcia from acting as the company’s agent, Wold said.
But Frank found that Garcia had crossed the line into practicing law without a license when he wrote a letter to the city on Cedar’s behalf in which he cited legal precedents. Garcia also tried to represent the company at an administrative law hearing, but the referee knew he had been disbarred and halted the proceeding.
Probation officer James Weinberger filed a report last week describing a series of alleged violations. He said that an attorney in Minneapolis reported in June that he had attended a meeting with Garcia and two other lawyers. Garcia asked how much of a referral fee the attorney would pay him for some criminal cases.
In August, Garcia registered as a lobbyist with the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, listing an Eden Prairie address. He listed these businesses as clients: Alete Cleaning Services of Minnetonka, Cedar Towing and Auction of Minneapolis and Nina’s Grill of Burnsville.
Garcia also faces several traffic violations. He was cited for misdemeanor driving after suspension in Hennepin County District Court last April. The State Patrol stopped him Oct. 18 after observing him drive erratically; he had a blood alcohol content of 0.12 and was cited for gross misdemeanor DWI in that case. He was cited with another gross misdemeanor in December for driving after his license was canceled. In January, he was cited again by the State Patrol for driving without a seat belt — still, without a license.
Frank scheduled a hearing to impose sanctions for May 28, when he expects the traffic cases will have been resolved. He ordered Garcia to refrain from alcohol and drugs.
When the state Supreme Court disbarred Garcia in 2010, it said his “misconduct is substantial and varied.” Garcia misappropriated client funds, lied to conceal the theft and coerced false testimony from the client, the court found.