Decided: May 7, 2014
Attorney: Kimberley Bukstein
Misconduct: Unauthorized Practice of Law
Citation: DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL v. BUKSTEIN, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-1884
Discipline: injunction + civil penalties

Kimberley Bukstein describes herself as a ‘civil rights advocate’ however she is not an attorney. Despite receiving no fees for her services, the Supreme Court of Ohio found that her activities on behalf of two women in their respective domestic-relations proceedings crossed the line into the unauthorized practice of law.

The Court determined that in these cases Ms. Bukstein ‘held herself out as an expert and person worthy of trust in matters of law and this misrepresentation induced the pro se plaintiffs to rely on her unauthorized and unqualified legal advice—to their detriment and the detriment of other parties in the litigation.’ Her involvement in one case lead to the withdrawal of the plaintiff’s attorney.

Ms. Bukstein’s actions in the two cases included:

  • providing legal advice
  • drafting motions for a party to sign pro se
  • sending communications on behalf of another in which she made legal arguments
  • demanding discovery
  • sending correspondence threatening to file disciplinary complaints or legal actions on behalf of other to coerce the recipients to cooperate (identified herself as a ‘pro se attorney of record’ and stated that opposing counsel in the matter had a duty to respond to her as ‘opposing counsel’)
  • appearance in court (sitting at counsel table and identifying herself to the judge as a civil-rights advocate)

The Court reiterated its well-settled precedent, ‘The practice of law is not limited to appearances in court. It also embraces the preparation of papers that are to be filed in court on another’s behalf and that are otherwise incident to a lawsuit.’ Toledo Bar Assn. v. Joelson, 114 Ohio St.3d 425, 2007-Ohio-4272 ¶ 6.

The Court explained that her self-proclaimed title did not save her: ‘These are not the actions of a person seeking systemic reform of the legal system—they are the actions of a person advising and advocating for another on issues of law.’

While the Board recommended Ms. Bukstein receive the maximum penalty allowed under Gov.Bar R. VII(19)(D)(1)(c): $20,000 ($10,000 for each matter), the Court found a total of $10,000 appropriate. The Court also prohibited Ms. Bukstein from engaging in any further acts that constitute the unauthorized practice of law in Ohio.