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Scrappy Lawyer Inspires Awe, Ire

COLUMN ONE

Maureen Kallins' combative courtroom style has made her beloved by defendants and disdained by prosecutors and judges. Contempt citations and financial woes take a toll.

April 21, 2001|MAURA DOLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She tooled around town in a purple and yellow Corvette convertible, with KALLINS on the license plate. She said a former client gave her the car as payment for her work.

Many defendants dumped their attorneys and replaced them with Kallins. Her practice soared, and some of her colleagues believe she took on too many cases at once.

Mounting Debts, More Competition

Those heady years have given way more recently to a string of troubles for Kallins, including debt.

Criminal defense law is highly competitive, particularly for the few clients who can pay tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a private lawyer.

Kallins said she and her husband got into financial trouble in part because the federal government was slow to reimburse her for work she did on several cases as an appointed lawyer.

She blames herself for not managing her finances well. "I thought it was a war," she said. "I didn't think it was a business."

Kallins said her run-ins with judges have cost her money and energy and diverted her from her work. She has challenged judges only to protect her clients from erroneous or unfair rulings, she said. In fact, she added, she enjoys good relations with many jurists.

Nonetheless, her previous clashes with judges sometimes precede her into court. That was the case two years ago in the rape trial that would end with her receiving the 20-day jail sentence for contempt.

Alameda County Deputy Dist. Atty. Morris Jacobson reviewed her previous cases and filed a brief about her record with Superior Court Judge Jeffrey W. Horner. Jacobson's 33 pages of arguments said that Kallins had a routine she used to cheat the prosecutor out of a fair trial.

Among the litany of examples cited by Jacobson was Kallins' handling of a bloody shirt, an exhibit, when she was representing a man accused of attempting to kill a CHP officer.

She dropped the victim's shirt on the floor during the court proceeding and walked on it, Jacobson said. When the judge ordered her to pick it up, she draped it over the prosecution's table. Kallins said she may have accidentally dropped the shirt.

After reading the brief, Horner granted an order listing 33 rules of conduct for the trial.

Rule No. 1: "Neither attorney shall yell, scream or shout at witnesses, jurors, opposing counsel, the judge or court staff."

Despite the rules, the trial did not go smoothly. In court records, Horner said Kallins used an "unrelentingly sarcastic, insolent and arrogant tone" in addressing the prosecutor and the judge and deliberately mispronounced the prosecutor's name.

At one point, Kallins wanted previous testimony read to a witness, and the prosecutor said the reading should include comments further back in the transcript.

The judge said he would review the transcript. While he was reading it in the courtroom, Kallins remarked: "I'm waiting."

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" the judge asked.

"I'm waiting," Kallins said.

Horner told her to sit down. Her client was later convicted.

California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the defenders' association, has filed arguments on behalf of Kallins in the pending sanctions case, saying that she may have been punished for actions "that not only are, but should be, permitted to criminal defense lawyers."

But the defense bar has not otherwise warmly embraced Kallins.

"I had every big case in town," Kallins said. "I think that economically, people were really threatened by me. It's hard to support your competition."

'I Think My Enemies Have Won'

Kallins said she has not taken a new client in a year and that her troubles have diminished her popularity in the jails. She wants to leave her law practice altogether.

"I think my enemies have won," she said.

The judge's contempt order would require her to serve her time alone in a cell, which horrifies her. "If you fight for the Constitution, they are going to get you," Kallins said.

During a recent court appearance in Oakland, Kallins looked tired as she argued to suppress evidence in a drug case. She was aggressive in her questioning of the witnesses, but she did not argue with the judge. In fact, she was extremely polite.

When the session was recessed for lunch, Kallins said she had to work while she ate. Wearing a loose chartreuse raincoat, she pushed a luggage cart containing a cardboard box of files around a court plaza. She looked more vulnerable than Vesuvian.

People make mistakes, she said, standing in line at a bagel shop. Criminal law is highly competitive, and women are discriminated against, she went on. She took her lunch and moved to a table, where she ate alone.

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