Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Page 1


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.

Criminal Contempt

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.

Debtor Exam

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.

The court makes the following order on its own motion:

For reasons known only to himself, Fine is attempting to obtain his release from this court and from the appellate court at the same time. He filed a motion for such relief in this court, and then, before it could be heard, he requested the same relief from the Court of Appeal. It is unclear what he expects this court to do in light of his petition to a higher court.

The motion before this court, to annul all orders and judgments in this case, even though said judgment is final, also makes no sense, because it includes the judgment by this court granting to petitioner, Fine's former client, a writ of mandate.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Fine's conduct is irrational. Fine has always had the key to his own jail cell. He has elected to give up his freedom for 18 months in order to keep a judgment creditor from collecting a $50,000.00 judgment. He refuses to even discuss his obligations to the judgment creditor, but portrays himself as a lone hero who is being incarcerated because he has exposed a vast conspiracy of over 400 judges of this court who are dishonestly collecting money to which they are not entitled. This contention has now been rejected at all levels of the Federal and California Judiciary.

His conduct is bizarre, and that fact alone must be considered by this court in performing its continuing duty to determine whether Fine’s continued confinement serves any useful purpose.     

Coercive confinement of a contemnor is only effective if the contemnor is capable of making a rational choice between the alternatives available to him. It is now likely that Fine is not capable of doing so. Fine’s continued incarceration is not likely to benefit the judgment creditor, and is only increasing its loss by requiring it to answer the courts periodic inquiries as to the collectability of the judgment. Fine’s continued incarceration is a detriment to the public because Fine is using up jail space in an overcrowded jail, and may cause the release of persons who constitute a greater threat to the public than Fine does. By keeping him 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.

The sheriff is ordered to discontinue the incarceration of Fine for the purpose of coercing him to answer the questions put to him in a judgment debtor’s examination. As of the date of this order, Fine is to commence serving the five day criminal sentence that he was ordered to serve for contempt of court. The sheriff may treat him like any other prisoner serving.a criminal sentence of five days in the County Jail.


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