Former Santa Rosa man’s DUI conviction may be overturned because his attorney was fake

The Sonoma County Pubilc Defender’s Office says it will ask a judge to overturn a former Santa Rosa man’s conviction in a 2014 DUI crash because he was represented by a fake lawyer.|

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Searching for a defense attorney? Verify their authenticity by visiting the California State Bar website and type their bar number under the “Look up a lawyer” search.

The Sonoma County Public Defender’s Office will have to wait to learn whether its request to overturn the 2014 DUI conviction of a former Santa Rosa man because he was defended by a fake attorney will be granted.

On Thursday, the office filed a motion in Sonoma County Superior Court on behalf of Norberto Ramirez Perez, who was sentenced to five years in prison.

A subsequent hearing on the request, which took place before Judge Karlene Navarro, was brief and the matter was continued to Dec. 21 while the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office reviews the motion.

Sonoma County Chief Deputy Public Defender Jeff Mitchell said he had hoped the district attorney’s office would have agreed to overturn the conviction immediately. “I think the conviction is not valid and they should just recognize that,” he said Thursday afternoon.

Even so, he acknowledged that he understood — given that the defendant was represented by Miranda Devlin, a fake attorney— why a lengthy review is necessary.

Between 2013 and 2014, Devlin appeared in Sonoma County court on 22 occasions to represent Ramirez Perez in his case, according to court documents.

The Public Defender’s Office said she did so under the guise of Stefanie Martin — a real lawyer, who authorities now know does not work in Sonoma County.

Devlin, officials added, developed a penchant for impersonating lawyers.

By the time a Marin County judge became suspicious of her identity during a November 2019 court appearance, authorities believe she had stolen the identities of at least two state-licensed lawyers.

She was subsequently arrested in December 2019 on suspicion of impersonating an attorney, but she was let go and was never officially charged in that case.

Nearly two years later, according to federal officials, she was convicted of bilking the government out of $368,000.

In December 2021, the Sonoma County Public Defender’s Office learned of Devlin’s involvement in Ramirez Perez’s case and that resulted in Thursday’s request to have his conviction overturned.

“For all those involved, this is the best course of action,” said Vishad Dewan, a Sonoma County public defender, who is working to get Ramirez Perez’s conviction thrown out.

Exactly how Devlin got involved in Ramirez Perez’s case wasn’t clear. Dewan said it’s not unusual for lawyers to find clients via websites or by chance encounter in court.

Devlin and her attorney could not be reached for comment this week.

Assistant District Attorney Brian Staebell said Wednesday that the public defender’s motion needs to be reviewed before his office comments.

Local case develops

Mitchell said Ramirez Perez is the only known Sonoma County defendant misrepresented by Devlin.

He was arrested after a crash that occurred at about 3:30 a.m. April 15, 2013 on Highway 12 at Merced Avenue, according to the California Highway Patrol. He and his passenger were injured and the latter was hospitalized for several weeks.

Following his conviction, he was sentenced in September 2014. He served three years of his five-year sentence, before being deported in 2017. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Officials said several questions still need to be answered before the conviction can be overturned.

For example, can the county’s public defender make the request to overturn the conviction even though the office didn’t represent Ramirez Perez in 2013? And can proceedings begin again without him present?

Regardless of what happened to Ramirez Perez, Mitchell believes justice dictates that his conviction be thrown out.

“He’s the victim of a fraud and he was denied his right to counsel at that trial. We consider this a serious constitutional deprivation,” he said.

Dewan added that his office wanted to dismiss Ramirez Perez’s case last December, but the complexities of the situation and months of investigation delayed their request until now.

Federal fraud is discovered

According to a sentencing memorandum filed last year by her defense attorney, Devlin, at the time of her offense, was described as a 37-year-old mother of four, living in San Francisco.

She had attended law school and passed the California Bar Exam in July 2013, but “was denied a license to practice law because the State Bar found that she did not have the requisite moral character,” according to the memorandum.

Toward the end of 2019, according to court documents, Devlin stole the identities of two licensed lawyers whose first names are also Miranda.

Her elaborate scheme involved paying dues on at least one occasion to keep an attorney’s license active and representing defendants in felony cases, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

She also contacted the State Bar of California and the U.S. Postal Service to change one lawyer’s home and email addresses to her own, officials said, adding that this is how she obtained one of her victims’ State Bar license card.

On Nov. 15, 2019, a Marin County Superior Court judge began to doubt Devlin’s veracity during a court appearance there. At the time, she was reportedly representing defendants in two child molestation cases.

She identified herself as Miranda Martin, which was the name of another lawyer who had put her license on inactive status the previous month after she became concerned that her identity had been stolen, federal officials said.

The judge, again, questioned Devlin’s Bar status later that month and Devlin said she was changing her last name due to marriage. At that point she identified herself as the second victim, Miranda Petrillo, and presented her Bar card, officials said.

She was arrested Nov. 26, 2019, on suspicion of impersonating a lawyer but was later released on bail as investigators continued to look into her activity.

Devlin was never charged in that arrest, the Marin County District Attorney’s Office verified Thursday.

Officials said Devlin’s duplicitous behavior continued in spring 2020 during the onset of the pandemic, when she filed applications for a PPP loan using fake tax forms and information for a business called Common Nucleus of Cancer.

The business didn’t exist, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Nevertheless Devlin was granted $368,000 from the U.S. Small Business Administration program, officials added.

Federal officials said Devlin was arrested after federal charges of mail fraud and making false statements to a financial institution were filed against her in February 2021.

She used fraudulent information to obtain Paycheck Protection Program loans for a fake business at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

She pleaded guilty in her federal case in July 2021 and four months later, on Nov. 17, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

How to vet your attorney

Searching for a defense attorney? Verify their authenticity by visiting the California State Bar website and type their bar number under the “Look up a lawyer” search.

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