Monday, May 24, 2010
LIMON CO(IFS) - This is totally a HATE CRIME by Superior Court Judge David Yaffe. If only the tables were turned around and Yaffe was placed in jail for a long time, his treatment would be very different. Los Angeles County and City judges are not the best people to work with. Along with their counter-parts in Ventura County, I'd pray that the Department of Justice would take them over and place all of them in prison. I always pray for the down fall of these two counties, when the day comes that the San Andreas Fault will wash them to the bottom of the ocean.
Ex-lawyer jailed 14 months, but not charged with a crime
By Abbie Boudreau, Emily Probst and Dana Rosenblatt,
CNN Special Investigations Unit
Former Beverly Hills lawyer has been in solitary confinement for 14 months
Richard Fine, 70, is not charged with a crime; he's being held in contempt
Supreme Court decides Monday it won't hear the case
Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Once a dapper Beverly Hills attorney known for his bow tie, Richard Fine has been held in solitary confinement at Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail for 14 months, even though he's never been charged with a crime.
Fine, a 70-year- old taxpayer's advocate who once worked for the Department of Justice, is being held for contempt of court.
Superior Court Judge David Yaffe found Fine in contempt after he refused to turn over financial documents and answer questions when ordered to pay an opposing party's attorney's fees, according to court documents.
Fine says his contempt order masks the real reason why he's in jail. He claims he's a political prisoner.
"I ended up here because I did the one thing no other lawyer in California is willing to do. I took on the corruption of the courts," Fine said in a jailhouse interview with CNN.
More details on the Special Investigations Unit's blog
For the last decade, Fine has filed appeal after appeal against Los Angeles County's Superior Court judges. He says the judges each accept what he calls yearly "bribes" from the county worth $57,000. That's on top of a $178,789 annual salary, paid by the state. The county calls the extra payments "supplemental benefits" -- a way to attract and retain quality judges in a high-cost city.
While the practice of paying supplemental benefits is common in California, most high-cost cities elsewhere don't hand out these kinds of benefits. Judges in Miami, Chicago and Boston receive no extra county dollars.
Judges in Los Angeles County not only have the highest state salaries in the nation, they also get tens of thousands of dollars in county benefits. These payments, Fine says, mean judges are unlikely to rule against the county when it is involved in a lawsuit.
In the last two fiscal years, Los Angeles County won all but one of the nine trials that went before a judge, according to Steven Estabrook, the county's litigation cost manager.
"The reason I'm here is the retaliation of the judges," Fine says. "They figured they're going to throw me in jail and that way they feel that they can stop me."
Fine's decade-long crusade against the judges eventually led to his disbarment last year. Joe Carlucci was the lead prosecutor for the California State Bar. Carlucci says whenever Fine lost a case, he would appeal and argue the judges were corrupt.
"What he ultimately did was to delay proceedings, to level false accusations against judges," Carlucci says. "All of those lawsuits were found to have been frivolous and meritless."
Judge Yaffe and county officials refused to comment on Fine's case while it's still pending.
"Fine holds the key to his jail cell," Kevin McCormick, one of the court's attorneys, pointed out in a court filing. In other words, Fine will go free once he hands over the documents the court seeks and answers the judge's questions.
The technical term is "coercive confinement" -- jail-time until a person follows a judge's order.
"He's probably done more time than most burglars, robbers and dope dealers," says Sterling Norris of the public-interest group Judicial Watch.
Norris says Fine's confinement has gone on too long.
Norris won a case in 2008 that found county payments to judges unconstitutional. The California Legislature swiftly passed a bill that enabled counties to continue paying the extra benefits.
"I think it's a lack of judicial integrity to say enough is enough," Norris says. "We've got a man, 70-year-old attorney, in jail for over a year on coercive confinement and that is way beyond the pale. No matter what else he may have done, that is improper."
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, calls the length of Fine's contempt confinement an "anomaly."
Fine's jail cell could be used for a more violent offender, Whitmore added. In fact, Los Angeles County's jails have in recent months released hundreds of inmates before their terms were up due to budget constraints.
Fine took his pencil-and-paper fight from solitary confinement to the U.S Supreme Court, which ruled Monday it would not hear the case. The court offered no explanation.
Meanwhile, Fine's family stands behind him -- even in the face of home foreclosure.
"My husband has always been the straightest arrow, hardworking, very successful attorney, and for this to happen to him is unbelievable," says Maryellen Fine, his wife of 27 years.
"I'll look back with tears with all the time I might have missed with the family," Fine says tearfully just before he is handcuffed and walked back to his cell.
"We don't know what is going to be next," says Fine's daughter, Victoria. "Every day is just one more day where I think maybe I'm going to get a phone call that says dad's coming home."
I guess Mr Fine really pissed Yaffe off; and there must be an element of truth to his accusations. This kind of vindictive and hateful treatment by those within by US legal system hierarchy is generally reserved for those without money, and whose complexions are darker than Mr Fines.
Posted: 09:57 PM ET
When I hear the term “contempt of court,” I right away imagine one of those courtroom dramas on TV, where some guy is yelling at a judge, the judge gets mad, and screams out from behind the bench, “I find you in contempt of court!” The belligerent person screams some kind of obscenity back, and is then handcuffed and hauled away by a bailiff. On TV, he’s let out of jail a day or two later when tempers have calmed down and egos have been set aside. But that’s TV. It’s a much different scenario for Richard Fine who has been held in contempt of court for 14 months now.
Fine is not a criminal – he’s a 70-year-old former Beverly Hills attorney, once known for his bow-tie.
I met him at the L.A. County Jail. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit and was handcuffed.
He considers himself a “political prisoner.” He’s been held in solitary confinement for more than one year (jail officials say that’s because other inmates could harm him), and he says he’s only been outside for about nine hours since he’s been locked up.
According to court documents, Fine is in jail because he refused to produce financial documents and answer questions when ordered to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees. That’s when Judge Yaffe put Fine in contempt of court, until Fine decided he wanted to give the court what it requested.
Well, so far, Fine is not in the mood to cooperate. Fine believes he is being held in contempt for a very different reason. He says Judge Yaffe, and other L.A. County Superior Court judges, have accepted what he calls “bribes” from the county. Fine argues the “bribes” create a conflict of interest for judges in cases where the county is a party to the lawsuit. He feels the judges should be disqualified from those cases.
L.A. County judges really do receive extra benefits from the county on top of their six-figure state salary. It’s a practice common in California that was retroactively made legal, after a 2008 case against L.A. County found the payments unconstitutional.
The county says the extra cash is a type of “supplemental benefit” that helps to attract and retain quality judges in a high-cost city. Fine doesn’t buy that argument, so for the past decade, he’s been going after judges and has tried to expose what he considers a “corrupt judicial system.”
But for the purpose of this blog, let’s put the details of his history aside for a moment, and just focus on why court officials say he’s in jail. It’s because he doesn’t want to hand over his financial records or answer questions. He is being held in what is called “coercive confinement.”
That means, unless he does what the judge wants him to do, he will remain in jail – in his case, indefinitely. It’s like the world’s longest timeout. Fine does not want to cooperate because he says he will lose his chance to appeal his case against Judge Yaffe, if he ever gets out of jail. But when does this stop being productive and start becoming a waste of everyone’s time?
Of course, we tried contacting Judge Yaffe. And of course, he said he did not want to talk to us about this case since it’s ongoing.
What will happen if Fine refuses to cooperate, and Judge Yaffe doesn’t put an end to this? Could this go on for another year, or maybe even more? At what point does “coercive confinement” become nothing more than an indefinite jail sentence.
Oh, and one more thing. In the last couple of months, L.A. County Jail released about 200 inmates before their terms were up because of budget shortages. A spokesman for the jail told me they sure could use Fine’s cell for real criminals.
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Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit