Legal Ethics

Judge Frees Ex-Lawyer Imprisoned for Contempt, Cites ‘Bizarre' Conduct

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A Los Angeles judge has on his own motion released a former lawyer imprisoned 18 months for contempt for refusing to answer questions about his finances.

Disbarred lawyer Richard Fine, 70, was “abruptly released” Friday evening, the Los Angeles Times reports. Judge David Yaffe had jailed Fine when he refused to answer questions about his finances after being ordered to pay sanctions and attorney fees. The judge had also cited Fine for practicing law without a license, the Times says.

Fine had claimed he was a political prisoner, taking his fight for release all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, losing the fight when his cert petition was denied. Fine asserts Yaffe is biased against him because of his longtime criticism of Los Angeles County’s practice of giving its judges nearly $50,000 in extra pay over their state salaries.

In an order posted by the Full Disclosure Network, Yaffe calls Fine’s conduct “bizarre” and “irrational” and says continued confinement would be detrimental to the public because Fine is “using up jail space in an overcrowded jail.”

“It is becoming increasingly clear the Fine’s conduct is irrational,” the order says. “Fine has always had the key to his own jail cell. He has elected to give up his freedom for 18 months in order to keep a judgment creditor from collecting a $50,000 judgment. …

“Coercive confinement of a contemnor is only effective if the contemnor is capable of making a rational choice between the alternatives available to him,” the document reads. “It is now likely that Fine is not capable of doing so.”

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