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Judge Sends Defense Lawyer to Jail for Contempt of Court in 1999 Trial

The attorney, sanctioned for 'offensive' conduct, begins serving a 20-day term after the jurist refuses to modify her sentence.

November 08, 2003|Maura Dolan | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — A combative criminal defense lawyer who represented some of the most notorious defendants in Northern California went to jail Friday to serve a 20-day sentence for "extremely offensive" and "utterly unprofessional" conduct during a trial four years ago.

Maureen Kallins, 54, who began practicing law in 1976, left a packed courtroom with her hands cuffed behind her back after a judge refused to modify her sentence for contempt of court.

Kallins received five contempt sanctions from the judge during the 1999 trial, in which she represented an accused rapist who was subsequently convicted. Her appeals were recently exhausted.

Kallins had been a well-known legal figure in Northern California, particularly for her aggressive style in the courtroom and her tendency to enrage judges and prosecutors.

Appellate courts chastised her for "outrageous" conduct and for being so "out of control" in one trial that it became "the trial from hell."

Her jailing Friday attracted a crowd to Alameda County Superior Court, where her lawyer presented a petition signed by supporters and tried in vain to have her sentence changed to community service or house arrest.

On one side of the courtroom sat prosecutors and their investigators, many of whom had jousted with Kallins during her career. On the other sat criminal defense lawyers and Kallins' friends, supporters and family, including her 79-year-old mother, who had flown in from Florida.

Someone with a sign demonstrated outside, and supporters thrust a bouquet of pink roses into Kallins' hands when she arrived at court.

Charles Gretsch, her husband and a criminal defense lawyer, implored Judge Jeffrey Horner to consider that Kallins' younger brother died unexpectedly during the 1999 trial and that she was devastated by grief at the time the judge found her behavior contemptuous.

But Horner contended that Kallins repeated the same, disruptive antics in trial after trial in a calculated effort to give her clients a strategic advantage.

The judge had accused Kallins of sticking out her tongue at a prosecutor during the trial and emitting a "loud, unrestrained and somewhat prolonged belch" after he sanctioned her, which Kallins denied.

Horner had said that he sanctioned her because she attacked the impartiality of the court, accused the judge of favoring the prosecutor and made derogatory comments about the prosecutor.

Kallins, a petite woman with short, strawberry blond hair, apologized Friday for her behavior and told Horner, "I am not the same person I was four years ago."

Wearing a sweater and slacks, she said in a strong, clear voice: "I want to apologize for any amount of disrespect, for any raising of the voice, for anything I did to cause this court any discomfort, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart."

Kallins has previously blamed her many contempt convictions on sexism among judges she said were offended by aggressive female lawyers.

"It is very difficult for a judge to hear what a woman has to say; it is very difficult for anyone to hear what a woman has to say," Kallins said the afternoon before she was jailed.

Horner thanked Kallins for the apology but refused to relent. He said the sentence was "entirely warranted" and "richly deserved."

As it became clear that the judge would not modify her sentence, Kallins, seated at the defense table, removed her jewelry and handed it to her husband. When she was led away in handcuffs, she turned to her family and mouthed: "I am OK, I am OK," and puckered her lips in kisses to them.

At one time, Kallins was one of the Bay Area's most highly sought criminal defense attorneys. Jail inmates passed her name around, and she earned huge fees. But a string of contempt sanctions from judges and reported mismanagement of her finances left her near bankruptcy. Some colleagues said she took on too many clients at once.

Kallins no longer practices law. She, her husband and their two sons recently moved to Washington state, where, Kallins said, she is exploring a career as an independent producer and is writing an autobiography.

State Bar of California records show that Kallins has never been publicly disciplined but is on inactive status because of three disputes over fees with previous clients.

With time for good behavior and other credits, she could be released after serving 13 days. She also was fined $4,300 for contempt.

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