A man accused of illegally posing as a lawyer in at least 10 states is back in court as a defendant. Prosecutors want to present evidence of his criminal past but the judge says he may not allow it.
Howard O. Kieffer, 54, of Duluth, Minn., is charged in North Dakota with one count of mail fraud and one count of false statements in impersonating a lawyer. Authorities say he worked on federal cases in a number of states, but North Dakota is the first state to prosecute him.
Kieffer faces up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted in his trial, starting Tuesday in Bismarck. Attorneys on both sides have declined comment on details of the case.
Court records show Kieffer was convicted earlier of theft and filing false tax returns and served time in a federal prison from 1989 to 1992.
His attorneys have filed a motion to bar federal prosecutors from bringing up the convictions during his new trial, saying they happened more than a decade ago.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Conmy responded that he is "not inclined to allow the government to present any evidence" about Kieffer's criminal history. But the judge reserved the right to reverse his ruling "if necessary to give the jury a more comprehensive view of the trustworthiness of the defendant as a witness."
Authorities said Kieffer lied on his application to practice law in federal court and worked on federal cases in at least 10 states. His clients include a former St. Louis Blues hockey player who pleaded guilty to plotting to kill his agent and a Colorado woman who was convicted of soliciting the killing of her former husband.
Authorities said Kieffer also led an Internet discussion group on federal prison issues and appeared at seminars throughout the U.S. to speak about federal sentencing.
Kieffer was charged in North Dakota last year after one of his clients, a man accused of child pornography, wrote to U.S. District Judge Dan Hovland in Bismarck, raising questions about whether Kieffer had ever been a licensed attorney. The client man he had paid Kieffer $37,000.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley called the case intriguing and said it has forced federal courts to review their procedures for admitting lawyers to practice.
"It's probably easier to pull off a fraud posing as an attorney than as a brain surgeon," Wrigley said. "In that case, there would have been evidence early on."
Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.