Facing years in prison for alleged sex crimes, Hilcer Mendez and Eduardo Aparicio both turned to the same private defense attorney, Miranda Martin.
Now Martin might be facing incarceration, too — for allegedly impersonating a licensed lawyer.
Martin was arrested at the Marin County courthouse last week after authorities challenged her credentials. The sheriff’s department identified her as Miranda Devlin and booked her under that name.
The bail amount was $100,000, and Devlin bailed out while prosecutors review the case. If the allegations hold up, an untold number of cases she has handled in Marin and the Bay Area could be upended.
But Devlin, in an interview on Tuesday, says she is a legitimate lawyer operating under her real married name. She said the identification issue is a clerical mistake the prosecution is exploiting to defeat her clients.
“I can swear on a stack of Bibles that I have taken the bar exam, I have passed the bar exam,” she said.
The allegations surfaced last month after some questioning by Judge Paul Haakenson, who is overseeing the Mendez case. Mendez, 32, of Novato is charged with six counts related to child molestation.
On Nov. 15, Haakenson said it came to his attention that the “Miranda Martin” bar number on file, 202463, had gone inactive, according to court minutes. The judge told the attorney that he would need a letter from the bar association attesting to any errors.
Haakenson said he would also need proof of retroactive reinstatement, or he would have to appoint another attorney to Mendez’s case.
According to the bar association’s website, state bar number 202463 belongs to Miranda N. Martin. That bar number was activated in 1999 and went inactive in October.
The mailing address for Miranda N. Martin is the address of another lawyer with the last name Martin. He works for a firm in San Francisco. His wife’s name is Miranda, and she is the inactive lawyer.
Devlin returned to court on Nov. 26. She told Judge Haakenson that she had updated her state bar information to reflect her married name, Miranda Petrillo Martin. She presented a state bar card with a different number.
Haakenson declined to let her proceed on the case because of the pending licensing probe. She was booked that day on a court order obtained by prosecution investigators.
The next day, the public defender’s office moved to take over Mendez’s case. Haakenson agreed and vacated the trial, which was scheduled to begin this week.
In a separate hearing on Tuesday, Haakenson removed “Miranda Martin” as the attorney of record in the Eduardo Aparicio case. Aparicio, 36, of San Rafael was arrested in January on allegations he repeatedly molested two Novato children he babysat for friends.
Haakenson also nullified all of Devlin’s filings and appearances on the Aparicio case since late October. A status hearing is set for Monday.
It remains to be seen how other cases Devlin has worked on will be handled. These include the conviction of Miguel Angel Garcia in a 2015 rape investigation in Vacaville.
Devlin, in the interview, said the entire controversy arose because one of her clerks accidentally used the wrong Miranda Martin’s bar number on a filing.
“I just have people writing motions for me and stuff,” she said. “I don’t look at every little detail.”
She also suggested that Marin prosecutors were using the clerical mistake to undercut her clients’ positions. Without her counsel, she said, the defendants would take bad plea deals on the advice of public defenders.
“The bigger picture is that they’re looking at me, I’m a Hispanic woman, they’re Hispanic men, and they want a conviction,” said Devlin, who is based in San Francisco.
“They’re just mad at me because I won’t budge. That’s what they’re upset about — me. Trying to help the public.”
The process for clearing up the credential dispute was unclear. The state bar did not provide information Tuesday about its knowledge of the matter, if any.
Devlin says she wants the authorities in Marin to concede their mistake.
“I’m hoping they’ll call me back and apologize and say, ‘We messed up,’” she said. “But I doubt it.”
Source: East Bay Marin authorities suspect Bay Area attorney of impersonation