A report on where
Eastman Faces Disbarment Proceeding…Watford to Relinquish Ninth Circuit Seat …Biden Nominates Johnstone for Ninth Circuit Vacancy, Kato for District Court, Renominates Vera…Judges Brodie, Kleifield, Naranjo, Sotelo Slate Retirement Dates
The State Bar of California’s chief trial counsel, George Cardona, announced Thursday that disbarment of former Chapman University School of Law Dean John Eastman is being sought based on his participation in an effort to block Joseph Biden from taking office as president through allegations of election fraud.
The notice of charges cites his speech in the District of Columbia at the “Save America March” in which he asserted that Vice President Mike Pence had the legal authority to delay certification of the Electoral College results while alleged irregularities were probed. Eastman is blamed, in part, for the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol by throngs of supporters of President Donald Trump.
The notice says:
“By telling the crowd of protestors, from a position of authority as a professor and purported ‘preeminent constitutional scholar,’ that fraud had occurred in the election, that dead people had voted, that electronic voting machines had been used to fraudulently alter the election results, that Pence had authority to delay the counting of votes, and that Pence did not deserve to be in office if he did not delay the counting of votes, respondent made false and misleading statements that contributed to provoking the crowd to assault and breach the Capitol in an effort to intimidate Pence and prevent the electoral count from proceeding, when such harm was foreseeable, and thereby committed an act of moral turpitude, dishonesty, and corruption in willful violation of Business and Professions Code section 6106.”
“There is nothing more sacrosanct to our American democracy than free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power. For California attorneys, adherence to the U.S. and California Constitutions is their highest legal duty. The Notice of Disciplinary Charges alleges that Mr. Eastman violated this duty in furtherance of an attempt to usurp the will of the American people and overturn election results for the highest office in the land—an egregious and unprecedented attack on our democracy—for which he must be held accountable.” .
State Attorney General Rob Bonta announced in a Sept. 20 press release that the Department of Justice will look into “whether any individuals committed a crime by allegedly giving advance warning” to then-Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and another who were subjects of a search warrant. The person who allegedly provided the tip-off is Max Huntsman, who was hired by the county as “inspector general” to unveil official misconduct.
Appearances are that Huntsman, though a former deputy district attorney, interfered with a law enforcement investigation into possible political corruption by causing Kuehl, indirectly, to be alerted to an impending exploration of her home by sheriff’s deputies, affording her an opportunity to hide or destroy potentially incriminating evidence. Huntsman is mum.
Side questions loom as to whether then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva did actually have adequate cause to suspect wrongdoing on the part of Kuehl in connection with the awarding of a no-bid contract to a nonprofit headed by a friend and financial supporter of hers, Civilian Oversight Commissioner Patricia Goggans, whom Kuehl appointed to the commission. The then-supervisor— who happens to be a member of the board of the nonprofit Goggans heads—disclaims any knowledge of the award by a county department until after a controversy blazed. Also in controversy is whether Villanueva, who lost his reelection bid on Nov. 8, was simply going after political foes, each of whom earlier called for his resignation.
As to Huntsman, there is the matter of whether he should be prosecuted, as the sheriff urges, and/or fired from his county post, and/or disciplined by the State Bar. On Oct. 5, Villanueva said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors:
“Mr. Huntsman will be removed from all access to Department facilities, personnel, and databases effective immediately. This standard is applied to all Department personnel who are named as a suspect in a criminal case involving felony crimes.”
The facts that emerge are that on the morning of the raid by sheriff’s deputies on her Santa Monica home on Sept. 14, Kuehl told reporters:
“I heard from county counsel last night that she got a tip from Max [Huntsman] that this search would happen this morning.”
KFI newsman Steve Gregory has reported that at 11:41 p.m. the day preceding the raid, Acting County Counsel Dawn Harrison texted Kuehl:
“CoCo,” Gregory said, stands for “county counsel” and O’Connor is Kuehl’s attorney.
One deputy district attorney comments:
“What Max Huntsman did is egregious. If he warned the supervisor of the impending search warrant, he completely disregarded his 20+ years training and practice as a deputy district attorney. Disclosure is unethical, invites destruction of evidence, and puts officers in danger.
“If this was a gang murder investigation, he would never tip off the suspect, but because he has become a political pawn of the Board of Supervisors who appointed him and ensure his continuing hefty salary, he somehow justified it in his own head.”
The critic terms the alleged conduct “[d]isgusting behavior from an attorney who spent the bulk of his DA career in the Public Integrity Unit, prosecuting elected officials.”
The specific sections of the Penal Code alluded to by Villanueva, a non-attorney, do not appear to have applicability to Huntsman, though the question remains as to whether other sections might be pertinent.
On Nov. 15, Villanueva held a press conference. His office said in the course of a press rambling release:
“The sheriff displayed the letter to the Board of Supervisors regarding Office of Inspector General, Max Huntsman to correct the record based on what he said and what he did. However, the BOS refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing by Huntsman. He explains that the Board of Supervisors portrayed the sheriff through narrative as being insubordinate against the BOS and created an elaborate system to give a negative impression to the public about the sheriff himself even though all the information was provided to them based on what they were legally entitled. Yet when it came time for Max Huntsman to testify, his testimony was secretive. Huntsman's testimony took place behind closed doors, where he recanted everything said in public, including the identification of gang members.”
The State Bar, under fire for its dereliction in failing to act on complaints about Thomas V. Girardi (now disbarred) until his dishonesty became manifest and widely reported by the news media, is now going after two celebrity lawyers—former Los Angeles County Bar Association President Brian Kabateck and criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos—in a move that could backfire if the two are exonerated—for a fourth time.
Kabateck has attained multi-million dollar judgments and settlements; Geragos is a criminal defense lawyer whose clients have included Whitewater defendant Susan McDougal, former Rep. Gary Condit, actress Winona Ryder, and entertainer Michael Jackson.
In a Sept. 27 press release, the State Bar said the two are being investigated “in connection with the Armenian Genocide insurance settlement funds from which dispersals were made in the U.S. and France.”
Kabateck and Geragos obtained a settlement of $37.5 million in separate actions against two insurers who failed to pay claims under life insurance policies issued to persons who were slain in the Armenian genocide. Major attention has been focused in recent Los Angeles Times articles on what happened to proceeds from a $17.5 million settlement with a French insurer in 2005.
Questions have been raised as to whether the two lawyers pocketed any of the funds. While moneys are missing, the lawyers point out they had nothing to do with the distribution of the proceeds.
They were previously cleared of wrongdoing in two State Bar probes and one by independent investigators.
“The State Bar is charged with protecting the public. Confidence in our ability to do so has unfortunately been shaken in recent times by the Girardi matter and what it represents. Restoring and maintaining the public’s trust in the disciplinary apparatus of this agency is imperative.”
“To that end, it is important to emphasize that the State Bar investigates possible misconduct wherever it might occur. The status of attorneys, or the size of their practice, cannot and will not impact our decisions to investigate misconduct.”
Geragos—who says he will be suing the State Bar—remarked that Duran’s mention of Girardi shows that “all they’re trying to do is deflect” attention from the debacle in responding to complaints about Girardi.
“This is a political stunt by the State Bar.”
President Joseph Biden on Sept. 6 nominated University of Montana law professor Anthony Devos Johnstone for a vacancy to be created upon the assumption of senior status by Judge (and former Chief Judge) Sidney Thomas. Johnstone once clerked for Thomas. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Oct. 12. No action was taken by the Senate and Biden on Jan. 3 renominated Johnstone.
Judge Paul Watford has announced that he will resign as a Ninth Circuit judge on May 31.
There are four vacancies.
Two judges, John A. Kronstad and Virginia Phillips, assumed senior status; Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell died; and Margaret Morrow retired and is now an arbitrator/mediator/private judge.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Hernán D. Vera was nominated Sept. 20, 2021, for the seat previously occupied by Morrow. The Senate Judiciary Committee did not report favorably on the nomination. Vera was re-nominated on Jan. 3.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenly Kiya Kato was nominated on Jan. 3 as O’Connell’s replacement.
Biden on Dec. 21 announced that he will nominate Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Wesley Hsu and Mónica Ramírez Almadani, president of Public Counsel, to vacancies.
There are no vacancies.
There are three vacancies. The latest was created on July 31 by the retirement of Justice Steven Z. Perren of Div. Six. Justices Laurie Zelon of Div. Seven and Halim Dhanidina of Div. Three previously retired.
Among those whose names were submitted by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the State Bar Commission on Judicial Evaluations to be rated for the office are Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Kevin C. Brazile (the court’s immediate past presiding judge), Rashida Adams, Michelle Kim, Audra Mori, and Helen Zukin (also known as Helen Eisenstein), as well as former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frank J. Menetrez who wants to move over from his post as a justice of the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Sitting pro tem through Feb. 28 are Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Nicholas F. Daum and Natalie P. Stone. Marin Superior Court Judge Geoffrey M. Howard will serve as a pro tem through Feb. 10.
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