Legal Ethics

Lawyer who smuggled client's 'hit list' from jail should get 4-year suspension, bar judge says

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A prominent California criminal defense attorney should lose her law license for four years for smuggling materials out of a state jail including a claimed hit list of witnesses in a murder case, a California State Bar Court judge ruled on Monday.

Attorney Lorna Brown admits she took materials out of an Alameda County jail without showing them to guards after a visit with her then-client Yusuf Bey IV. Those materials included some transcripts on which Bey had written notes, and a card in a sealed envelope, which she says she thought at the time was a love letter from Bey to his girlfriend. After a follower of Bey’s was arrested, based on a tip, and found with a transcript that allegedly included witness hit instructions, Brown said she knew nothing about a plot against witnesses but thought the follower was helping her to find witnesses to interview, according to a Chauncey Bailey Project article in the San Jose Mercury News.

The State Bar had sought disbarment for Brown, 67, during an ethics trial in April. Brown had hoped for a six-month suspension. The state supreme court will make the final decision about what sanction is appropriate, reports KTVU.

The supreme court previously rejected an earlier two-year suspension for Brown as too lenient.

In a Monday ruling, Judge Pat McElroy wrote that Brown “willfully ignored her duties as an attorney, as well as the health and safety of witnesses who planned to testify” against Bey and “significantly harmed the administration of justice” because “witnesses were understandably frightened and one requested and received witness protection protocols.” However, McElroy also said Brown has not previously been disciplined in over 20 years of practice and eventually expressed remorse.

Bey was convicted of arranging the 2007 murder of three men, including Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey, who was reporting on the activities of Your Black Muslim Bakery. Bey is currently appealing his life sentence.

The Alameda County district attorney agreed not to prosecute Brown, in exchange for her promise to retire, the Chauncey Bailey Project article says. But after the one-year statute of limitations expired, Brown went back to work as a lawyer. The DA, Nancy O’Malley, then complained to ethics authorities.

See also: “Lawyer Accused of Smuggling Witness Hit List From Jailed Client” “Calif. Supremes Reject Recommended Sanction for Lawyer Accused of Smuggling Client Papers”

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