- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Court of Appeals on Tuesday granted a new trial for a Lincoln man sent to prison for practicing law without a license and taking money for it.

Authorities say Clinton Brooks Jr. took $1,500 to give legal advice and draft court documents in 2011 for a man seeking a divorce and child custody. Brooks, who has never been licensed to practice law, was convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 15 to 35 months in prison for theft and three months for the unauthorized practice of law.

Among his arguments on appeal, Brooks asserted that the trial court wrongly instructed the jury on the misdemeanor count of practicing without a license.

The appeals court agreed, saying the trial court was wrong to instruct the jury to consider periods when Brooks was accused of practicing without a license before June 2012. The appeals court says that the statute of limitations for practicing without a license is 18 months. Because the charges were filed in December 2013, accusations made against Brooks in 2011 and the first half of 2012 should not have been used to convict him, the appeals court said.

But the ruling may not mean an easy win for Brooks. The appeals court found that double jeopardy does not apply in Brooks’ case and that he may be prosecuted again, if the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office decides to do so.

“We note that evidence from outside the limitations period cannot be used to convict Brooks for the unauthorized practice of law on retrial,” Judge John Irwin wrote for the court. “However, evidence of Brooks’ conduct from outside the limitations period is admissible to provide context to evidence from within the limitations period.”

The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the appeals court’s opinion.

Brooks’ public defender, Yohance Christie, said he had not had a chance to speak to his client Tuesday about the ruling and had not heard from prosecutors about what action they might take.

The appeals court rejected all of Brooks’ other arguments, including those that faulted the trial court for not allowing him to call character witnesses and for not allowing testimony that questioned a prosecution witness’ reputation for truthfulness. Brooks also argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him and that his trial attorney was insufficient.

The appeals court upheld his conviction on the theft charge. Christie said he will explore his options to further appeal the felony conviction.

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