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Veteran attorney in L.A. held on contempt of court charges

March 05, 2009|Victoria Kim
  • Richard Fine has now been jailed twice on contempt charges.
Richard Fine has now been jailed twice on contempt charges. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Sporting a burgundy bow tie and with silver-gray hair fringing a mostly bald head, 69-year-old veteran attorney Richard Fine made an unlikely arrestee as he was hauled off to jail Wednesday morning from a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

But this marked the second time Fine has landed behind bars on contempt of court charges -- this time for refusing to answer a jurist's questions and for practicing law without a license. Judge David Yaffe ordered Fine to sit in jail indefinitely, until he relents and follows court orders.

Fine, who is a former Department of Justice antitrust attorney and holds a doctorate in international law from the London School of Economics, has pitted himself against the Los Angeles bench for nearly a decade. He has accused a number of judges, in court filings and several lawsuits, of being tainted by the county-funded benefits they receive on top of their state pay.

His conduct has led state bar judges to recommend that he be disbarred, alleging that the Beverly Hills attorney repeatedly filed meritless claims to retaliate against judges who ruled against him, state bar records show. The state Supreme Court denied Fine's last petition for review of his discipline last month; his disbarment becomes final next week, according to a state bar official.

Defiant until the end, Fine on Wednesday accused Yaffe of being biased, taking illegal payments and denying him his constitutional rights, even as sheriff's deputies stood ready to take him to jail.

"All of your acts are illegal," Fine told Yaffe, to shocked expressions from other attorneys waiting in the courtroom for their cases to be heard. "No matter how much you want to dance around it, legally speaking . . . you cannot get around it."

The underlying case is a lawsuit Fine filed on behalf of Marina del Rey residents against Los Angeles County and developers in the area. Shortly after the case began, Fine's license to practice law was suspended by the state bar. Fine was removed from the case and ordered to pay legal fees to his opponents, but he repeatedly refused to answer questions in hearings about those fees, saying the order was void because Yaffe was biased against him.

In order to get out of jail, Yaffe said Wednesday, Fine must submit a declaration saying he will comply with court orders. Sheriff's deputies will then bring the attorney to court, and if he responds to questions as ordered, he will be released, the judge said. Fine said he filed a writ of habeas corpus with the state Supreme Court earlier in the morning and told the judge he had no intention of answering the questions until he exhausts those challenges.

After the hearing, Fine calmly took off his watch and held out his hands to be handcuffed. He was escorted away by three uniformed and six plainclothes sheriff's officials.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

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