State Bar Court disciplinary proceedings against a lawyer who allegedly smuggled documents out of an Oakland murder defendant’s jail cell were postponed in San Francisco Monday for several months while prosecutors for the agency prepare new charges.
Lorna Brown, a former lawyer for Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV, faces proceedings in connection with an incident in which she allegedly took a sealed envelope out of Bey’s Santa Rita Jail cell in Dublin in March 2010.
The renewed proceedings are required because the California Supreme Court last month rejected a proposed settlement of the case.
In the proposed settlement, Brown, 66, of Berkeley, would have agreed to have her license to practice law suspended for six months to two years in exchange for her admitting to two charges.
The first charge was that Brown committed a misdemeanor by taking documents out of Bey’s cell without the warden’s permission on March 8, 2010.
The second was that she did not tell the truth about the incident to two Alameda County District Attorney’s investigators in an interview on April 13, 2010.
Brown said in the proposed agreement that the documents included a sealed envelope that she believed contained an apology from Bey to his common-law wife, and that she gave the documents to a relative of Bey’s to deliver to Bey’s wife.
The planned settlement stated that the envelope contained a letter from Bey instructing his wife to destroy evidence in her possession, but that Brown was unaware of the contents of the letter.
But because the state high court turned down the agreement, the proposed charges and Brown’s factual admissions have no legal force, according to State Bar spokeswoman Laura Ernde.
Ernde said the now-rejected 11-page settlement is the only public document in the bar investigation and no other details are available.
Ernde said prosecutors informed State Bar Hearing Judge Lucy Armendariz at a status conference today that it would take them several months to prepare new charges.
After the charges are filed, a new judge will be assigned to the case and a date for a disciplinary trial will be set, Ernde said. Armendariz is stepping down from the case because she presided over the proposed settlement.
The state Supreme Court’s brief order rejecting the settlement on June 21 did not give details of the court’s reasoning, but mandated “further consideration of the recommended discipline in light of the applicable attorney discipline standards.”
The order cited a 2005 decision in which the state high court overruled a State Bar Court plan to suspend a lawyer for misconduct for three months and ordered disbarment instead.
Brown abruptly withdrew as Bey’s defense lawyer in his Alameda County Superior Court triple-murder case on April 16, 2010, three days after her interview with two district attorney’s investigators, citing an undisclosed conflict of interest.
Bey, 26, represented by a different lawyer, was convicted in 2011 of murdering journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other men in Oakland in the summer of 2007. He was sentenced to three consecutive terms of life in prison without parole.
An allegation that documents taken out of jail by Brown included a hit list prepared by Bey surfaced in July 2010 in an affidavit filed in Alameda County Superior Court by Inspector Kathleen Boyovich of the district attorney’s office.
The affidavit alleged that Bey gave Brown the list to deliver to Gary Popoff, also known as Rasoul Bey, a bakery associate of Bey’s. It alleged the document contained a list of witnesses Bey wanted to have killed.
Boyovich alleged in the affidavit, “The witnesses’ names had been highlighted so that Popoff would be able to identify the witnesses that he would have to kill so they would not be available to testify at Yusuf Bey IV’s pending murder trial.”
Michael Cardoza, who is Brown’s lawyer in the State Bar proceedings, denied last week that there was a hit list.
“It’s absolutely not true. There was no hit list,” he said.
Cardoza declined to comment in detail on the case. But he said that leaving a legal document briefly with a client in jail and then taking the document out of jail without the warden’s permission may be a “technical violation” but is a common practice by defense attorneys.
Ernde said that because the investigation is confidential, no information is available on whether State Bar prosecutors have considered Boyovich’s affidavit.
Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, said she could not comment on details, but said, “We will provide any pertinent information to the State Bar.”
In the unsuccessful settlement, Brown would have been suspended for two years, but that suspension would have been stayed except for the first six months. After six months, she could have been reinstated to law practice after showing that she attended an ethics course and passed a professional responsibility examination.
The State Bar, headquartered in San Francisco, is an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, in charge of licensing lawyers and investigating those accused of misconduct. Possible punishments range from reproval to suspension to disbarment.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News