Tuesday, October 6, 2009
High Court Denies Review of Fine’s Disbarment
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The nation’s highest court yesterday denied review of the disbarment of a Beverly Hills attorney who lost his license after 35 years based on a finding that he frivolously litigated a dispute with court officials.
The justices, without comment, denied Richard I. Fine’s petition for writ of certiorari.
The state Supreme Court ordered Fine disbarred on Feb. 11 of this year. Justices voted 6-0, with Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar absent, to deny discretionary review of the State Bar Court’s recommendation.
Fine was placed on involuntary inactive status in October 2007 after State Bar Court Judge Richard Honn recommended disbarment. 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 Los Angeles Superior Court 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.
The Legislature later enacted legislation authorizing the benefits and immunizing officials against liability for having paid them in the past. That legislation was recently upheld by a visiting superior court judge.
Fine claimed disbarment violated his constitutional rights to free speech and due process of law. He contended that bar officials retaliated against him for engaging in protected speech, while the State Bar says that Fine engaged in moral turpitude by continuously relitigating issues on which he had been ruled against.
“This is political payback for my having exposed the corruption in the judicial system,” Fine told the MetNews at the time of his disbarment.
Fine has been confined to the Twin Towers jail since being held in contempt March 4 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe for refusing to answer questions at a judgment debtor examination. His federal habeas corpus petition was denied by U.S. District Judge John Walter of the Central District of California June on 29.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted him a certificate of appealability, but denied two motions for immediate release and said it would not entertain any more such motions before ruling on his appeal. The sheriff’s brief in opposition to that appeal is due Friday.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company