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Legal Docs by Me challenges attorney general accusations

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WATERTOWN — The state attorney general’s office continues to investigate a Franklin Street business to determine whether it was offering improper legal services.

On Friday, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a cease-and-desist letter and a subpoena for business records to Legal Docs by Me LLC and the company’s CEO, Derek B. Distenfield. Deanna R. Nelson, assistant attorney general in the Watertown office, said Wednesday that the letter ordered the business to stop the unauthorized practice of law.

In March, Legal Docs by Me opened as an alternative to hiring a lawyer. The business prepares documents such as wills, divorces, prenuptial agreements, living trusts and incorporations. It charges $99 to $399 for the service.

The business has remained open despite the attorney general’s order. “Mr. Distenfield should take heed,” Ms. Nelson said. “He’s ignoring our notice.”

The AG’s office wants to obtain the business’s records to determine who filled out the forms, she said. Unbeknownst to his clients, Mr. Distenfield did not fill out the forms but farmed them out “to a third party,” Ms. Nelson said. The AG’s office hopes to identify that entity through the company’s business records.

The company’s attorney, Lee Kindlon, went to court Wednesday to challenge the subpoena by requesting that state Supreme Court Judge Joseph C. Teresi, Albany, issue a stay and keep the company operating. Mr. Kindlon wants the AG’s office to show cause why the business records should be subpoenaed, according to court documents. Judge Teresi reserved decision, ordering the AG’s office to make oral arguments on June 5.

Sherman Jewitt, who runs an Albany public relations firm representing the business, told a Times reporter Wednesday, that Mr. Kindlon would be available for comment. The attorney never called.

Mr. Distenfield launched the business to provide what he has called “another key into the courthouse.” Mr. Distenfield has denied that his company practices law.

A disclaimer at the bottom of his website says the business is not a law firm and does not provide attorneys or legal services to its customers.

The Jefferson County Bar Association asked the attorney general’s office to investigate the company.

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