PARK CITY — A bizarre case in Summit County has led to the arrest of a woman who police say was impersonating a Utah attorney and handling cases in court, representing real clients under the attorney's name.
Karla Carbo, 29, of South Jordan, was arrested Tuesday and booked into the Summit County Jail for investigation of identity theft, two counts of forgery and communications fraud. Investigators say she has represented herself as an attorney in several jurisdictions and likely will face multiple charges.
Carbo allegedly even opened her own law office and hired a man who recently passed the bar legitimately but had no idea he was being hired by a fake attorney, according to the real Utah attorney the woman is accused of impersonating.
On Dec. 23, Carbo was allegedly in 3rd District Court representing a suspect in a 2008 theft case. During that hearing, Carbo signed court documents in front of deputy Summit County attorney Matthew Bates who was representing the state in the case, said Summit County Sheriff's Capt. Justin Martinez.
"You know, there were a couple of things she said that kind of raised my eyebrows, things I would expect a defense attorney to know or questions you'd expect an experienced defense attorney to ask. But it wasn't enough to make me dig any deeper because we get attorneys from other parts of the state or newer defense attorneys all the time," Bates said Wednesday. "But looking back on it, I remember sitting there raising my eyebrows a couple of times thinking, 'Really? You don't know that?'"
Carbo said her name was Karla Stirling Fierro, according to police. Karla Stirling is an actual attorney from Bountiful certified by the Utah State Bar. Carbo also allegedly used Stirling's real bar number.
"It's been shocking to hear that there's been somebody else whose doing this with my name and my bar number," Stirling told the Deseret News Wednesday. "I mean, who would take it that far to full-on impersonate someone and use a legitimate bar number?"
Stirling is a bar certified attorney in Utah, but she mainly practices in California. And her area of expertise is business.
"I don't do any criminal work. I've never done any criminal work or immigration or personal injury. I've done business contracts, real estate," she said. "I have not done any litigation matters in Utah. There shouldn't be any court files with my name or my bar number in Utah whatsoever."
So when the court contacted Stirling on Dec. 23 with a question regarding the recently completed court matter, she had no idea what they were talking about.
"I said, 'I don't know what this is. There must be some mistake.' And they went back and checked and said, 'Oh no, this is no mistake,'" Stirling said.
Soon, the Summit County Attorney’s Office got a phone call from the Utah State Bar Association "explaining that Fierro was not an attorney," according to the sheriff's office.
Information on how many clients Carbo has allegedly represented and what will now happen to those cases was not immediately available. Investigators did not yet know how Carbo came in contact with actual defendants or what her motive was.
Utah state court records indicate that Carbo has no prior criminal history.
Stirling said she has been told by investigators that Carbo represented at least four clients, and possibly more. She said the Utah State Bar was in the process Wednesday of doing a records check to see how many times Stirling's name and bar number show up in court records.
As for the theft case Carbo was allegedly in court for last week, the defendant actually pleaded guilty to the charge.
"This is a very serious matter because we know of at least one person out there now who has pled guilty to a crime without having a competent attorney," Bates said.
The judge for that case sent a notice to the defendant telling him what had happened and scheduled a new court date, at which time the defendant will be allowed to be appointed a real attorney as well as withdraw his guilty plea if he wants to. Bates said his office will not likely object to a "do-over."
"Legally, he has pretty solid grounds to withdraw his plea if he wanted to because the plea was essentially uncounseled. and an uncounseled plea is a violation of the Constitution," he said.
Attorneys in Utah have to give their name and bar number when they appear in court, but are not required to show a photo identification. There have been problems in the past with people falsely representing themselves as being a licensed attorney in Utah and taking people's money, Stirling said. But she said the Utah State Bar had not heard of a case of someone actually going into a courtroom impersonating a real attorney and handling real court cases.
"I was really surprised to hear about all of this myself. I'm surprised at the length this person went to," she said.
As for the legal advice Carbo was allegedly giving, "I have no idea her experience with the law or how effective she was (in the courtroom)," Stirling said.
Stirling worries now for the people whom Carbo represented and what will happen with their cases, especially since some of defendants likely believe their cases have been resolved. She also wonders if they will be able to recover any money they might have paid in "legal fees."
"My heart goes out to other victims," she said.
Anyone who believes they may have been illegally represented in court by Carbo can call the Utah State Bar or their local police department.
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