Naomi Brownstein, 68, is just trying to help lower-income people, she says.
Stop breaking the law, says Melissa Kaplan, deputy attorney general, state Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Getting a divorce in Philadelphia costs too much and is too difficult, says professor D. James Greiner of Harvard Law School.
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” says William Shakespeare in a widely misinterpreted line from Henry VI, Part 2.
What does Byko say? Well, let’s start with Brownstein, who in 2010, after a varied career in retail including classified advertising at the Main Line Times, decided to try something entirely different: She opened a secretarial company called Divorce Services.
She is not a lawyer and says she never claimed she was. She did learn the legal ropes when she worked in a lawyer’s office and in 2005 completed a paralegal course at Villanova.
She provides services to people involved in divorces that are not contested, also writes wills and “property settlements that are not litigious,” she says. Simple stuff.
Mostly she downloads forms and fills them out for her clients, charging $250 for divorce papers, which people could do for themselves but there’s a lot of legalese (i.e., Latin) that frustrates people. She also files the forms with the proper offices, usually upstate to save her customers Philadelphia’s high court charges.
She says she has had thousands of clients over the years and when the attorney general’s consumer office subpoenaed her, she asked which consumer had complained.
None, she says she was told by Kaplan.
If a consumer didn’t complain, who did?
I’m guessing it was some lawyer who doesn’t like competition, but that’s beside the point.
Brownstein grew up in Levittown, lives in Germantown, and has an office in West Mount Airy. She got a degree in social work from Penn State, did that for a few years and now, in a way, has returned to it by trying to help people with relatively low-threshold legal problems.
Somehow the state Attorney General’s Office heard about it and came knocking, slapping her with a subpoena. She had a hearing last Wednesday in Center City.
I emailed Kaplan to verify what Brownstein had told me and to ask why she’s on the griddle. Brownstein says she’s never had a complaint in almost a decade of doing this kind of work. I wondered what law she had broken.
The email was forwarded to Joe Grace, press secretary for the attorney general. We spoke last Friday and he said he’d look into it.
While waiting for Grace, I reviewed an op-ed that appeared in The Inquirer in December.
Divorce should not be attached to “an arcane legal system that requires a lawyer to navigate,” Greiner wrote.
That’s where people like Brownstein come in, and she tells me Kaplan told her she was “breaking the law.” Brownstein admits she was upset and agitated when she heard that.
Contrary to what Brownstein believes she heard, says Grace, “no determination has yet been made as to whether there were any violations of the law here.” He says Wednesday’s hearing was just “fact-finding.”
There’s a disconnect between what Grace says the hearing meant and what Brownstein believes she heard.
It seems to me she’s being accused of a crime in which there is no victim, a case that cries for prosecutorial discretion.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro can, and should, make this go away.