Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Yaffe Cites Fine’s Inability to Make ‘Rational Choice’ As Reason for Disbarred Lawyer’s Release From Jail
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Further incarceration of disbarred Beverly Hills attorney Richard I. Fine would serve no useful purpose because the septuagenarian appears to have lost the ability to think rationally, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe said in an order made public yesterday.
Yaffe Friday ordered the release of Fine, 70, who had been confined since March of last year in the Los Angeles County Jail for contempt of court for refusing to answer questions at a judgment debtor exam.
“Coercive confinement of a contemnor is only effective if the contemnor is capable of making a rational choice between the alternatives available to him,” Yaffe wrote. “It is now likely that Fine is not capable of doing so.”
The judge reasoned that Fine’s continued confinement would likely only increase creditors’ losses as they answered the court’s periodic inquiries as to their judgment’s collectability. He also said that keeping Fine in an overcrowded jail was a detriment to the public because it could cause the release of prisoners who posed a greater threat than Fine.
“By keeping [Fine] incarcerated for 18 months, the court has deterred others from defying its orders to the extent that it is possible to do so given the facts of this case,” he wrote.
Discontinuing the incarceration for coercive purposes, Yaffe ordered Fine to serve a five-day sentence for criminal contempt. However, he said, Fine could be treated “like any other prisoner” serving such a sentence, and Fine was released from custody Friday evening. Inmates serving very short sentences are frequently processed and released because of jail overcrowding.
Fine—whose request for review by the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected in May, leaving him effectively incarcerated until he complied with Yaffe’s orders—could not be reached for comment.
Los Angeles attorney Joshua Lee Rosen, who represents Fine’s creditors, told the MetNews that “the order speaks for itself.” He said the approximately $50,000 debt was still owed to his clients and that they were considering their options, but he declined further comment.
Fine has contended that he was denied due process and a jury trial when he was jailed. He also claims to be the victim of a vendetta by Los Angeles Superior Court judicial officers based on his litigation of suits in which he challenged the County’s payment of benefits to Superior Court judges.
The judgment debtor exam was part of an effort to collect sanctions imposed by Yaffe for costs and attorney fees in a suit Fine filed on behalf of Marina Del Rey homeowners against local developers: Marina Strand Colony II Homeowners Association v. County of Los Angeles, BS109420.
Fine has maintained that Yaffe should have disqualified himself from the outset of the case because he, like apparently every other Los Angeles Superior Court judge, has received benefits from the county over and above his state salary. Yaffe has ruled that the argument was waived because Fine was aware of the payments at least 10 months before he raised the issue.
Supporters of Fine speculated on the Internet following his release that Yaffe’s order was related to the date: Friday evening marked the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. They also noted that Yaffe is scheduled to retire Nov. 1.
The judge declined comment yesterday, but his decision Friday came in contrast to an Aug. 23 order in which he wrote that Fine could “test” his theory that his confinement was politically-motivated “by paying what he owes to his creditor or by answering his creditor’s questions about his assets.” Yaffe explained that Fine could then “criticize the court and all of its judges to his heart’s consent…from outside the jail, rather than in it.”
The judge in that order also accused Fine of making accusations in order to “render this court powerless to order that he compensate his victim for the loss that he caused,” adding: “This court should not and will not do anything to indicate that such tactics are or will be successful.”
Fine was a member of the State Bar for 35 years before his disbarment last year 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.
Text of Order Freeing Richard Fine
The following is the text of Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe’s Order of Sept. 17, 2010 in Marina Strand Colony II vs. County of Los Angeles, BS109420.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company