SAN DIEGO — Federal prosecutors said that Monday they will appeal a magistrate's decision to allow an ousted judge to have a publicly paid lawyer defend him against criminal charges of bribery.
G. Dennis Adams, indicted in a judicial corruption scandal, is being represented by a public defender even though his wife is a judge who makes $107,390 a year and has a substantial investment portfolio.
Adams and Superior Court Judge Barbara T. Gamer signed an agreement before their 1992 marriage separating their assets. The couple lives in a $610,000 downtown condominium owned by Gamer.
When they married, Adams, 54, was under investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Performance on the charges that led to his ouster by the state Supreme Court last July and his indictment by a federal grand jury this month. The former Superior Court judge is charged with taking bribes from attorney Patrick Frega
in exchange for favorable treatment.
Gamer, 52, comes from an affluent family and was educated in Switzerland before attending UCLA. She was previously married to a successful trial attorney.
The fact that Adams has a public defender while being married to a woman with considerable means--including beachfront property on Kauai and a lengthy list of stocks, bonds, income property and retirement accounts with brokerage firms--has set off a firestorm of anger on radio talk shows and in letters to newspapers.
"I can empathize with them [the public] for feeling that way," Gamer said Monday, "but they should also empathize with me. . . . As a public figure, I cannot worry about what people think about every action I take."
She said Adams faces the need for a "million-dollar defense." She braved a gantlet of cameras to accompany him to his arraignment.
"My husband is indigent, he has no property assets, there is no community property," she said. "I am not legally obligated to pay for his defense and I believe that is a correct reading of the law."
Adams has told court officials that a previous divorce wiped him out financially and that he has had no income since being removed from office. In documents filed and sealed in federal court, Gamer said she was not obligated to pay his legal fees because they do not fit the legal definition of the necessities of life.
Under California law, a spouse must provide such necessities as food and shelter even if the couple has a prenuptial agreement. But the law does not list legal fees and no California court has ruled on the issue of whether a person can be forced to pay for a lawyer to defend his or her spouse in a criminal case.
Last week, federal prosecutors argued before Magistrate Judge Roger McKee that decisions in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania concluded that legal fees in a criminal cases are a necessity of life.
In a ruling that seemed to surprise both sides, McKee said he agreed with federal prosecutors but would not strip Adams of his public defender because such an action would invite an appeal and thus slow down the case. U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie, who will hear the case in San Diego, has said he wants the trial to commence quickly.
Judith Feigin, special assistant to U.S. Atty. Alan Bersin, said prosecutors decided to appeal McKee's ruling because "this is clearly a case where there are spousal resources" to pay for an attorney.
Adams is represented by Mario Conte, a tenacious defense attorney who heads a nonprofit law firm called Federal Defenders. The firm has a contract with the government to defend indigents in criminal cases.
In the 1980s, Conte successfully defended a San Diego County government official accused of being the mastermind in a scheme to extract bribes in exchange for awarding a $24-million telecommunications contract.
Former Superior Court Judge Michael Greer pleaded guilty in March to a charge of accepting bribes from Frega. He promised to provide testimony that ex-judges Adams and James Malkus took similar bribes. Adams, Malkus and Frega were indicted on bribery and mail fraud.
Greer, Adams, Malkus and Gamer were all appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr.. Adams was a public defender and worked in Democratic political campaigns; Gamer was a law professor and civil attorney.