San Diego police volunteer under investigation, accused of soliciting business for law firm

Situation raises ethical, legal concerns

SAN DIEGO - Team 10 has learned a San Diego Police Department volunteer is the focus of an internal investigation. The woman is accused of soliciting business for the law firm where she works while she was helping accident victims in her capacity as volunteer.

10News is not naming the woman or the law firm because she is not currently facing charges.

The woman was supposed to be helping the family of the mother killed after being struck by an SDG&E utility truck last month in Shelltown.

Ana Herrera Rodriguez was walking her daughter and her daughter's friend to school last month when they were hit by the utility truck. Rodriguez was killed and the children suffered minor injuries. Shortly after the accident, the San Diego police volunteer went to the home of Rodriguez's mother to check on her and take her blood pressure. Sources say she also told them they should hire a downtown law firm for representation, even though the family had already retained an attorney. The family switched attorneys after talking with the volunteer.

Timothy Casey is a professor with California Western School of Law. He said the situation raises a number of ethical and legal concerns.

California Business and Professions Code 6152 prohibits "runners" or "cappers," essentially people hired by a law firm to bring in business.

"If I were the prosecutor looking at this case, I would want to see that the person, the subject or the potential defendant, was receiving compensation specifically for the procurement of additional clients," said Casey.

The volunteer is a senior paralegal at her firm, but whether she received additional compensation for bringing in a client is unclear.

"The critical fact here would be whether this person was receiving compensation from the lawyer or whether the person was acting at the direction of the lawyer," said Casey. "The person as an employee of the law firm should know the ethical rules about solicitation and advertising."

10News tried contacting the volunteer and the firm where she works, but our calls were not returned.

The violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $15,000 fine.

The woman is also a volunteer with the Chula Vista Fire Department.

The Rodriguez family has gone back to their original attorney. John Gomez filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday afternoon against SDG&E. He said the suit serves two purposes.

"To provide for this family, to make sure they have the future that their parents were working so hard to provide them, and I think more importantly, to make sure this doesn't happen again," said Gomez. 

Gomez had no comment on the other law firm.

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