Thursday, June 7, 2001
Local Lawyers Held in Contempt for Delay in Filing Brief in Death Case
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Two Los Angeles lawyers were held in contempt and fined by the state Supreme Court yesterday for failing to file their opening brief in a capital case until nearly two years past the original deadline.
Andrew Rubin and Terrence V. Scott were directed to pay fines of $1,000 each for failing to timely file the opening brief on behalf of Alfredo R. Prieto, sentenced to die by a San Bernardino Superior Court judge in 1992 for a 1990 murder.
The court also referred the matter to the State Bar for possible disciplinary action.
The court had indicated, when it last sat in Los Angeles in April, that it was inclined to hold the two lawyers in contempt, but continued the matter to yesterday after the lawyers said they could have a brief ready.
The brief was lodged on May 18, and the justices yesterday granted relief from default and ordered that the brief be filed.
Chief Justice Ronald M. George recited the contempt findings, noting that the brief was originally due in June 1999, and that the court indicated in June of last year—when the fourth extension was granted—that no further extensions were “contemplated.”
Despite that declaration, George explained, the justices granted a fifth extension, to September of last year, while declaration that no further extensions would be granted. Despite the order, the chief justice said, Rubin and Scott asked for a sixth extension last September, assuring the court that a brief could be filed by the end of the year.
That representation, George said yesterday, led the court to grant a further extension to January 10 of this year, with the warning that the lawyers could be held in contempt or otherwise sanctioned if the new deadline were not met.
When the lawyers failed to meet the January deadline and asked for another extension, the request was denied and an order to show cause was issued, setting up the April appearance.
When the lawyers appeared in April, Rubin explained that the brief had been delayed because of the complexity of the case—the reporter’s transcript runs over 18,000 pages and the clerk’s transcript another 4,000—as well as his personal travel plans and the fact that he was simultaneously involved in three different non-capital cases in which petitions for Supreme Court review had to be filed.
But George noted at the time, and reiterated yesterday, that Rubin had made certain representations to the court as to the amount of progress that had been made toward completion of the brief. And the chief justice suggested that those representations may have been exaggerated.
None of the reasons given by Rubin for the delay, including a claim of “writers’ block,” George said, could justify the amount of time it took for the brief to be completed. The chief justice also reiterated comments he made in April that were critical of Scott for attributing part of the delay to strategic disagreements with the California Appellate Project.
Those comments were “quite inappropriate,” George said yesterday, “since you hadn’t submitted anything substantive” to CAP at the time of the April hearing.
Rubin urged the court to mitigate or withhold the penalty, saying that the reporting of the April hearing in legal newspapers had been embarrassing and constituted sufficient punishment.
But the chief justice sternly told both lawyers that they hadn’t helped their case by seeking to attribute the lion’s share of the delay to factors other than their own sloth.
“These excuses….have not favorably impressed the court,” George said.
The last attorney sanctioned by the court for similar violations, Jeffrey Garland, was fined $500 in April, but the justices found it unnecessary to refer the case for discipline. Garland lodged his brief two months after the order to show cause was issued, and apologized profusely to the court for the delays.