Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is California Prisoner A Victim of Judicial Retaliation?

A former attorney in Los Angeles has been jailed for 14 months, even though he has been charged with no crime.

Richard Fine, a 70-year-old taxpayer's advocate who once worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, is being held for contempt of court.

According to a report by CNN's Special Investigations Unit, Superior Court Judge David Yaffe found Fine in contempt after he refused to turn over financial documents and answer questions when ordered to pay an opposing party's attorney's fees. But Fine says something else is driving his incarceration. Reports CNN:

Fine says his contempt order masks the real reason why he's in jail. He claims he's a political prisoner.

"I ended up here because I did the one thing no other lawyer in California is willing to do. I took on the corruption of the courts," Fine said in a jailhouse interview with CNN.

What has made Fine an unpopular fellow with judges?

For the last decade, Fine has filed appeal after appeal against Los Angeles County's Superior Court judges. He says the judges each accept what he calls yearly "bribes" from the county worth $57,000. That's on top of a $178,789 annual salary, paid by the state. The county calls the extra payments "supplemental benefits"--a way to attract and retain quality judges in a high-cost city.

While the practice of paying supplemental benefits is common in California, most high-cost cities elsewhere don't hand out these kinds of benefits. Judges in Miami, Chicago and Boston receive no extra county dollars.

Judges in Los Angeles County not only have the highest state salaries in the nation, they also get tens of thousands of dollars in county benefits. These payments, Fine says, mean judges are unlikely to rule against the county when it is involved in a lawsuit.

In the last two fiscal years, Los Angeles County won all but one of the nine trials that went before a judge, according to Steven Estabrook, the county's litigation cost manager.

"The reason I'm here is the retaliation of the judges," Fine says. "They figured they're going to throw me in jail and that way they feel that they can stop me."

This story hits very close to home here at Legal Schnauzer. Just yesterday, I wrote about my own experiences with a corrupt judge--G. Dan Reeves of Shelby County, Alabama--threatening to hold me in contempt simply for arguing my case.

I have no problem believing that LA judges would retaliate against a lawyer who tried to throw a wrench into their gravy train. In fact, this passage from the CNN article pretty much confirms it:

Fine's decade-long crusade against the judges eventually led to his disbarment last year. Joe Carlucci was the lead prosecutor for the California State Bar. Carlucci says whenever Fine lost a case, he would appeal and argue the judges were corrupt.

We have a prosecutor for the California State Bar essentially admitting that Fine was disbarred and incarcerated because he tended to appeal rulings that went against him. Imagine that, a lawyer files an appeal! That's what lawyers are supposed to do, isn't it?

And what is wrong with Fine basing his appeals on allegations that the judges are corrupt? Nothing. And did the state bar bother to check the record for evidence that the judges, indeed, are corrupt. Probably not.

A spokesman for the group Judicial Watch says the Fine case is off the charts for courtroom lunacy:

"He's probably done more time than most burglars, robbers and dope dealers," says Sterling Norris of the public-interest group Judicial Watch.

Norris says Fine's confinement has gone on too long.

Norris won a case in 2008 that found county payments to judges unconstitutional. The California Legislature swiftly passed a bill that enabled counties to continue paying the extra benefits.

"I think it's a lack of judicial integrity to say enough is enough," Norris says. "We've got a man, 70-year-old attorney, in jail for over a year on coercive confinement and that is way beyond the pale. No matter what else he may have done, that is improper."

In an article out today, the Los Angeles Examiner has a report about errors in CNN's reporting. According to the Examiner report, CNN was more favorable to the allegedly corrupt judges than it should have been:

Corrections on CNN's Reporting

Also, here is a report about Richard Fine's background. Some have wondered if he is some sort of crank. But according to his bio, he has a law degree from University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. Doesn't sound like a crank:

Richard Fine's Bio


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Robby Scott Hill said...

Free Richard Fine!