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Nevada City Woman Under Investigation For Practicing Law Without A License

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Nick Janes joined KOVR/KMAX in December 2008 as a reporter. Nick...
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NEVADA CITY (CBS13) – A woman claimed she was a lawyer with a rolodex of clients, but investigators call her a liar, saying she never even went to law school.

The would-be attorney is now the target of the district attorney.

Sarah O’Neal’s office was within view of the courthouse, where the district attorney works. She came into town introducing herself as a big-time lawyer, but prosecutors say she’s a big-time fraud.

“She says, ‘oh I worked in federal court for so many years. I was just burned out,’ ” paralegal Rosie Freeman said of the fake lawyer.

O’Neal opened a law office in Nevada City, telling co-workers she wanted a simpler life and to help people.

It’s a nice story that prosecutors say is a lie.

“How can you just pretend to be somebody you aren’t and make their life worse? That’s awful,” said Freeman.

The Nevada County District Attorney’s Office claims O’Neal was a phony. She had no law license, and hadn’t even been to law school.

Prosecutors say she left divorces and adoptions unfinished. She even mishandled a loan modification, which cost the victim their home.

“She just didn’t know how to do the paperwork. And, her poor assistant working for her, the paperwork kept getting rejected, rejected, rejected,” said Freeman.

Freeman worked in the same building and referred clients to O’Neal. She says it became clear the so-called lawyer didn’t know what she was doing.

Prosecutors say there are at least 10 victims, maybe more, who were duped into paying money upfront.

O’Neal faces 15 felonies for identify theft and embezzling money.

“It blows my mind, it really does,” said Freeman. “When you talk to someone, you wonder if anything they ever said was really true.”

Freeman says O’Neal moved out and referred her clients elsewhere once the investigation started.

What was O’Neal’s new story? She was taking a full-time job as Gov. Jerry Brown’s speechwriter.

O’Neal didn’t answer the door when CBS13 knocked. So, she couldn’t answer questions.

Freeman says O’Neal arranged her cases so she never had to appear in court. So when she’s arraigned Thursday, it could be the first time the so-called lawyer’s ever sets foot in the Nevada County courthouse.

Prosecutors say O’Neal used bar numbers from retired lawyers with similar names to trick clients into believing she had a law license.

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