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Contempt Hearing for Lawyer Rejected

March 01, 2000|TRACY WILSON

A Ventura County judge Tuesday rejected a request for a contempt hearing against a local attorney accused of violating a court order by meeting with accused killer Justin Merriman at the county jail several weeks ago.

Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr. said the actions of Ventura attorney Tamara Green caused him concern because she represents another player in the case.

But he ruled that the court order prohibiting visits with Merriman was directed at jail personnel and not Green specifically. O'Neill went on to clarify the order to prevent future misunderstandings.

Green called the ruling a vindication that clears her name.

"It was very hard fought," she said after Tuesday's hearing. "[O'Neill] was very concerned about the issues.

O'Neill signed an order last fall prohibiting anyone from visiting Merriman after prosecutors presented evidence that the 26-year-old defendant was trying to harm witnesses in his case.

The order does not apply to Merriman's attorneys or investigators and is supposed to be enforced by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, which runs the county's jails.

The issue before O'Neill on Tuesday was whether Green violated that order during a three-hour meeting with Merriman on Jan. 29.

Green, who represents Merriman's mother in a related conspiracy case, contends the order did not apply to her because she was working as an agent of Merriman's criminal defense attorneys.

She says she went to the jail at Merriman's request to discuss a possible malpractice lawsuit against the county for his medical care at the jail.

Prosecutors say she had no business meeting with Merriman and was fully aware of the court order prohibiting visitors.

During Tuesday's hearing, prosecutors and attorneys for Green argued whether a contempt hearing should go forward on the issue. O'Neill ultimately decided against it.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh said the ruling accomplished what prosecutors wanted all along.

"We understand the court's ruling and we are happy that we could clarify the order now so we can avoid any future problems," Bamieh said.

Merriman is charged with murder and related offenses in the 1992 slaying of Katrina Montgomery. His trial was postponed to Sept. 11.

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