Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Ex-Lynwood Mayor Target of ‘Vendetta,’ Lawyer Tells Ninth Circuit
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The former mayor of Lynwood, sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison on corruption charges, was the target of an overzealous prosecutor with ties to one of his accusers, his lawyer told the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday.
Vicki M. Buchanan told the panel that former Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Shallman, who has since joined O’Melveny & Myers, was engaged in a “vendetta” when he prosecuted Paul Richards II and co-defendants Paul Harris and Bevan Thomas.
Richards served on the Lynwood City Council from 1986 until he was recalled in 2003, and was a seven-time mayor. Harris, who was sentenced to six years in prison, is Richards’ sister and the former president of Allied Government Services, which prosecutors said was a front that enabled Richards to profit by corruptly doing business with the city.
Thomas, a longtime friend of Richards, was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison. Thomas allegedly obtained a $25,000 per month consulting contract with Lynwood, which he secretly subcontracted to AGS.
Prosecutors said Richards stood to gain about $6 million from various schemes involving AGS, but realized only about $500,000 before his plans unraveled as a result of the defeat of a council ally in 2001 and his own removal from office two years later.
The case was built in part on testimony by Julio Naulls, a nephew of Richards who was a vice president of AGS who left the company partway through the events leading to the criminal charges. Naulls and his uncle accused each other of controlling the operation.
Prosecutors said Richards was behind a deal between Lynwood and AGS in which AGS became the city’s exclusive representative to negotiate a contract for the construction of billboards along the Century Freeway—now the Glenn Anderson Freeway or I-105—in exchange for 20 percent of the contract price.
The company then contracted with Regency Outdoor Advertising, without competitive bidding, to pay the city $4.8 million for the right to construct the billboards, thus enabling AGS to pocket $960,000 for work that was largely done by Richards.
In addition, a lobbyist for Regency, David N. Smith, admitted paying Richards an illegal $7,500 gratuity and cooperated with the government.
In arguing that the conviction should be overturned, Buchanan claimed that lead prosecutor Shallman, who practiced at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, had represented and lobbied for the owners of a rival billboard company that sued Richards and Regency for racketeering in connection with the Regency contract.
Shallman, she said, was biased against her client, a charge Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Searby, who tried the case with Shallman and argued yesterday for the prosecution, disputed vigorously.
The defense argument did not seem to sway the panel.
“What difference does it make?.” Judge Andrew Kleinfeld asked, suggesting that he did not see the conflict. He analogized to the situation of lawyers, such as himself, who represented clients in private practice, but later went on the bench.
A judge has no “interest” in ruling for a former client, since the client is no longer paying the judge for legal services, Kleinfeld reasoned. While judges may recuse themselves from hearing such cases, they need not do so if the attorney-client relationship was not of substantial duration or if considerable time has passed, he said.
While Shallman’s former clients might still be paying Gibson Dunn, Kleinfeld said, it was difficult to fathom how their payments to Shallman’s former law firm could have influenced the way he prosecuted the case.
When Buchanan suggested there was at least an appearance of impropriety, Kleinfeld responded that the standard she was proposing was tougher on prosecutors than current ethics rules are on judges, and asked Buchanan whether she could cite any case law on point.
Buchanan acknowledged that there was no specific case that she could cite.
Senior Judge Stephen Trott noted that the standard of review on attorney disqualification is abuse of discretion, suggesting that it would be difficult for the defense to meet, while Buchanan contended that U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner should have at least held an evidentiary hearing on the issue.
Searby, however, said the defense’s proffer was insufficient to require an evidentiary hearing. He said there was no evidence that Shallman had lobbied for the competing firm or had done anything improper in prosecuting the case.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company