For years, Reginald Taylor appeared to be a lawyer.
He had a framed law degree in his name. He went to court to plea bargain with a city prosecutor. He met with clients “dressed as an attorney,” according to police.
But Taylor is not an attorney, according to court records that describe him as a convicted felon and accuse him of running a fake law office out of a Grandview home.
Now the 40-year-old is in court as a defendant, charged in Jackson County with forgery and practicing law without a license. Taylor was arrested last November, accused of impersonating a lawyer in Blue Springs and Grandview city courts.
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Court clerks became suspicious of Taylor after he bounced a check while paying a fine for a client, according to police. Taylor had met with Grandview prosecutor Roger Potter and had his client’s drug paraphernalia charge reduced to a $229 fine for littering.
Potter, in a recent interview, said he didn’t remember Taylor specifically but wouldn’t have had any reason to question his standing. The city prosecutor might meet with 40 or more lawyers every day and doesn’t check the Missouri Bar credentials of each one, he said.
“He came in dressed in a suit and represented himself as a lawyer,” Potter said. “It was the clerks who dug into it, they pointed him out.”
Potter said he could think of only one or two times this had happened in his 25 years with the court.
When a court supervisor tried to call Taylor about his bounced check, she reached a lawn care business where a woman who answered the phone turned out to be Taylor’s mother, according to court documents. When Taylor was reached by phone, he first denied being in court but then changed his mind and agreed he had been after being told that all he needed to do was write a valid check.
Court staffers checked Taylor’s credentials and found that he had given a Missouri Bar number that belonged to an attorney in Columbia. Later, in Blue Springs, a court administrator said Taylor had done the same thing.
Once police started digging, they found that Taylor had a criminal record that stretched back to 1999 and included convictions for fraud, forgery, drug possession and auto theft.
Taylor’s client in the Grandview case told police that the two men lived together and that he had hired Taylor to represent him in court in Grandview, Belton and Blue Springs.
The man said Taylor claimed to be an attorney. He said he had seen Taylor meet with other clients and that he had a framed law degree in Taylor’s name.
A professional social media post advertising Taylor as a lawyer lists the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School in his education credentials, but university officials found no record of him attending the school.
The extent of Taylor’s law practice is unclear, but a Facebook page was created in May 2013 called the Law Offices of Reginald Taylor. The page advertises the law office as a “general law firm providing help to those in need. Personal Injury, Construction accidents, Contracts, Traffic DUI/DWI.”
The listed address of the law office matched a small house in Grandview. Police found Taylor practicing law and living in another house in Grandview when he was arrested.
A lawyer representing Taylor declined to comment on the case.
Two people reviewed the law office on the Facebook page, one giving it five stars and the other three. A post on Sept. 7, 2013, offered a piece of upbeat news about the firm:
“We just increased productivity and the size of our support staff,” the post read. “We’re fortunate enough to be able to purchase some up-to-date office equipment from Micro Center.”
Another post showed a T-shirt bearing the name of the law office and a phone number that is now out of service.
Grandview Municipal Court officials said Taylor appeared in court as an attorney only once.
Kansas City Municipal Court officials said they had no record of Taylor appearing as an attorney.
Court officials in Blue Springs said their records did not show whether Taylor appeared in court more than the one time alleged by prosecutors.
Belton court officials said Taylor had tried to sign in as an attorney once last year, but court clerks became suspicious that he wasn’t already in their records and they notified police. It’s unclear whether police planned to pursue charges.
Across the country, some cases of people pretending to be attorneys have made news.
In 2010, federal prosecutors accused an Orlando, Fla., man of creating a fraudulent law firm complete with office staff, attorneys and locations in Atlanta and Los Angeles — all as part of a fraud. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
In 2011, a Skokie, Ill., man accused of representing as many as 60 clients without a law license was sentenced to two years in prison. Tahir Malik learned much of what he knew about law from watching television and from his own criminal past, prosecutors said. He charged between $500 and $4,500 per case.
“He sounded like an attorney. He met with the state’s attorneys before the judge came out, all that,” one client, Marcus Moore, told the Chicago Tribune. “He walked around the courtroom like he was a hotshot, strutting around, you know. That really made me think the guy was a lawyer.”
In Missouri, misdeeds by lawyers are investigated by an agency of the Missouri Supreme Court called the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
The office does not track the number of people practicing without a license, but it does respond to complaints from clients and can pursue offenders through civil and criminal courts, said Alan Pratzel, chief disciplinary counsel for the state.
“There are some people who think the law is an easy way to make money off of someone in need,” Pratzel said. “This is, to me, one of the worst types of consumer fraud.
“We do have authority to take action to get them to stop.”
Anyone who believes they are a victim of misconduct by an attorney — or a person pretending to be an attorney — in Missouri can make a report to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel by visiting mochiefcounsel.org or by calling 573-635-7400.