A Los Angeles judge who had jailed a disbarred attorney on contempt charges 18 months ago released him last week because the attorney was "irrational," "bizarre" and incapable of making a rational choice, according to the judge's order.
The contempt charges against Richard Fine, a 70-year-old antitrust and taxpayer advocate, arose out of a lawsuit he filed on behalf of Marina del Rey residents fighting a new development in the area. When the state bar suspended Fine's law license shortly after the case was filed, Judge David P. Yaffe ordered Fine to pay fees and sanctions to the developers and reveal details of his finances. When Fine refused to answer questions about his finances, Yaffe ordered him jailed for contempt of court.
Yaffe said Friday in a three-page ruling that the former attorney's confinement no longer served a useful purpose, given what he called the attorney's "bizarre" conduct. The judge wrote that any further imprisonment would be detrimental to the public because he is taking up space in an overcrowded jail, possibly causing the release of other inmates who are of more danger to the public.
"Coercive confinement of a contemnor is only effective if the contemnor is capable of making a rational choice between the alternatives available to him," Yaffe wrote. "It is now likely that Fine is not capable of doing so."
In the order, the judge also disputed Fine's contention that his confinement was retaliation for his criticisms of the county's judges. Fine has repeatedly argued in a number of habeas corpus petitions and other court filings that he was being targeted because of his challenges to county-funded benefits that judges receive on top of their state pay.
Fine "portrays himself as a lone hero who is being incarcerated because he has exposed a vast conspiracy of over 400 judges of this court .... This contention has now been rejected at all levels of the Federal and California Judiciary," the judge wrote.
The U.S. Supreme Court in May declined to take up the attorney's case.
On Monday, Fine said in a written statement that the order showed that his incarceration was a result of his challenge of the judges' payments and called the order "a personal attack" and "beneath the dignity of any judicial officer."
As recently as last month, Yaffe had indicated he had no intention of giving in, writing in an order that Fine "thinks that he can ... render this court powerless to order that he compensate [the developers] for the loss that he caused, by making accusations of wrongdoing about this court and its judges. This court should not and will not do anything to indicate that such tactics are or will be successful."