Consumer Complaints Lead To Contempt Charges

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office is seeking to hold a Schenectady County man in civil and criminal contempt of court for his continued illegal operation of a paralegal and legal document preparation business.

"Those who willfully disobey court orders face aggressive prosecution by my office and severe consequences for their unscrupulous actions," Spitzer said.

Gaston Hooks, Jr. was cited by the Attorney General's office in 1999 for engaging in illegal and deceptive business practices related to his Justice For All Document Preparation, Mediation and Lawyer Referral Firm. In that case, the Attorney General's office alleged that Hooks repeatedly demanded full up-front payment and then failed to perform, complete or timely execute paralegal services for consumers seeking uncontested divorces, legal separations, name changes, child support, custody and visitation orders, and other legal services.

In 1999, Schenectady County State Supreme Court Justice Vito C. Caruso issued an order barring Hooks from the document preparation business unless he posted a $50,000 bond. Hooks also was ordered to pay nearly $15,000 in consumer restitution and $19,000 in civil penalties and costs.

In November 2000, Spitzer's office filed a contempt proceeding against Hooks after receiving additional complaints indicating that he continued to engage in the document preparation business without posting a bond and continued to engage in deceptive practices, in violation of the court's 1999 order. In May 2001, Justice Caruso found Hooks guilty of civil contempt and sentenced him to 60 days in jail.

According to at least eight consumers, however, Hooks has defied both the 1999 court order and the subsequent contempt order and continued to engage in the paralegal and document preparation businesses without posting the required bond and has continued to defraud consumers with his unscrupulous business practices.

In this second contempt proceeding against Hooks, Spitzer's office is seeking a criminal contempt order, including $40,000 in penalties and the maximum 30 days in jail, as well as a civil contempt order, including six months imprisonment. Hooks is currently incarcerated in the Schenectady County Jail on an unrelated matter.

The criminal contempt charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Individuals with complaints against Gaston Hooks and Justice For All are directed to contact Spitzer's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755. This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Barbaro of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau.