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Orange County

Charge Against Lawyer Dropped

State won't prosecute an attorney accused of perjury by a judge. His criticism prompted an appeals court to overturn her verdict.

March 20, 2003|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

State attorneys Wednesday decided against prosecuting a veteran attorney who had been accused of perjury by an Orange County judge.

Attorney Harley Burge said he was relieved that a felony perjury charge filed by Orange County prosecutors was dropped. The 70-year-old lawyer said he was the victim of a vengeful judge who was upset that he criticized her in writing. His declaration later prompted an appeals court to overturn a conviction and criticize the judge.

Prosecutors filed the perjury charge in January, accusing Burge of submitting a false written statement on behalf of a client appealing a misdemeanor sexual-battery conviction.

It wasn't until after an appeals court overturned the conviction that Superior Court Judge Pamela Iles wrote to the district attorney's office and accused Burge of submitting a false statement to the court.

At issue was the 1999 trial of Laguna Niguel physician Del Dalton, a chronic-pain specialist who was accused of sexually fondling female patients at his office. Iles took the jury on a tour of the doctor's office during the trial. While in the office, the judge placed the doctor under oath and started asking him questions. A jury convicted Dalton of sexual battery, and he lost his license to practice medicine.

Burge, who represented Dalton, wrote in the declaration that he had no advance knowledge of the judge's plans to question his client in front of the jury. An appeals court overturned Dalton's conviction last year, criticizing Iles' handling of the office visit.

Two weeks after the appeals court's decision last May 29, Iles wrote the district attorney's office and asked them to investigate Burge for perjury, saying the lawyer knew she intended to question his client.

Burge's attorney, Lawrence Strid, noted that the judge accused Burge of perjury only after the appeals court criticized her -- nearly three years after the attorney wrote the letter.

"Her reputation was severely compromised, so rather than leave with her reputation damaged, she decided to damage someone else's reputation, chiefly my client," Strid said this week.

Iles did not return a telephone call.

Because two Orange County deputy district attorneys were possible witnesses in the case, the state attorney general's office agreed to take over the case earlier this month to avoid a conflict of interest.

Deputy Atty. Gen. James Dutton said Wednesday that after reviewing the case, he did not believe there was enough evidence to prove Burge committed perjury.

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