Thursday, February 12, 2009
Supreme Court Orders Disbarment of Attorney Richard I. Fine
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday ordered that a prominent Beverly Hills attorney be disbarred for filing a stream of disqualification motions and other papers containing what the State Bar Court found to be false and frivolous charges regarding members of the state bench.
The high court, at its weekly conference in San Francisco, voted 6-0 to deny review and to adopt the State Bar Court’s recommendation that Richard I. Fine lose his license to practice law. Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar was absent and did not participate.
Honn was declared involuntarily inactive in October 2007 after Hearing Judge Richard Honn said Fine’s “remarkable academic and professional background” as a leading antitrust and taxpayer rights lawyer did not justify his “improper and vindictive reactions” to rulings of Commissioner Bruce Mitchell and other judicial officers.
The hearing judge said Fine “engaged in what amounts to an almost never-ending attack on anyone (including attorneys and judicial officers) who disagreed with him or otherwise got in his way.” Fine, Honn said, “kept digging himself into deeper and deeper problems” and failed “to appreciate the harm he has imposed on so many people and on the court system.”
Fine, the onetime head of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s antitrust unit and counsel for the plaintiffs in a number of highly publicized class actions and taxpayer suits, has blamed his troubles on state judges and other officials whom he accuses of retaliating against him for his years of challenges to the benefits paid to Los Angeles Superior Court judges by the county.
Fine claims that judges who receive the benefits have a conflict of interest in any case involving the county, and that they have, over the years, improperly failed to disclose the conflict and to disqualify themselves from cases to which the county is a party.
The Court of Appeal last year ruled in Sturgeon v. County of Los Angeles that the benefits are unconstitutional because they have not been authorized by the Legislature. The court did not say that judges who have been receiving the benefits had a conflict of interest as contended by Fine, but Fine—who was not involved in the Sturgeon case—said the decision vindicated him.
Fine told the MetNews he intends to seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court based on what he said are violations of his constitutional rights to free speech and due process of law. He has argued, among other things, that Honn had an undisclosed conflict of interest because the disciplinary charges stemmed from his battle with the county, which gives $30,000 a year to Special Olympics of Southern California, on whose board Honn serves.
Honn’s participation in the case violates the “implicit right to honest services” and should be investigated as a violation of federal fraud statutes, Fine said.
The now-disbarred lawyer is also suing the State Bar in federal court, arguing that the statute that permits disbarment for acts of moral turpitude not amounting to crimes violated the Due Process Clause. That suit, pending before Judge Dale Fisher in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, has been on hold pending the outcome of the State Bar proceedings, Fine said.
“This is political payback for my having exposed the corruption in the judicial system,” Fine said yesterday. “....I would have to question whether the California Supreme Court ....even read the papers....This is on one of the greater travesties of justice...They want to take the lawyer who has saved the taxpayers more than $1 billion dollars and put him out of the bar when they have done nothing about the corruption in the judicial system.”
He added that there is “not one scintilla of substantive evidence” that he has violated ethics rules.
In other conference action, the justices:
•Left standing a ruling by Div. Five of this district’s Court of Appeal, which threw out a $1.5 million verdict in favor of a former Los Angeles deputy city attorney who was discharged after angrily suggesting to a clerk that then-Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner (now Judge) Joseph Biderman “would have to answer to the Creator” for a judicial ruling which she opposed.
The panel ruled in Magnandonovan v. City of Los Angeles, B192892, that the hostile language directed at Biderman was a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason to discharge Lynn Magnandonovan, and that her pretext evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to support a reasonable inference of intentional retaliation.
Magnandonovan admitted to making the offending comment to Biderman’s court clerk after Biderman took Magnandonovan’s motion to revoke a convicted child molester’s probation off calendar when Magnandonovan failed to timely appear for the hearing. Biderman testified that he understood Magnandonovan’s remarks as a “veiled reference” to his homosexuality, and that he “felt very personally insulted”; “was very upset about it”; and “was in shock about the whole thing.”
While allowing the ruling to stand, the high court declined to order publication of the Court of Appeal opinion.
•Declined to review a ruling by the First District’s Div. Four that the State Bar’s subrogation rights against an attorney whose clients were reimbursed by the Client Security Fund are not limited to the amount of a litigation settlement between the lawyer and the clients. The case is State Bar of California v. Statile (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 650.
•Agreed to decide whether police violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered a mentally disordered man’s home to confiscate his gun after taking him into custody outside for posing a danger to others.
The Third District Court of Appeal ruled last October in People v. Sweig (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1145, said there was no constitutional authority for the warrantless entry in the absence of exigent circumstances. The panel rejected the prosecution’s argument that the entry was justified under the “community caretaking exception” to the Fourth Amendment.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company