An Alameda County District Attorney’s investigator testified at an Berkeley attorney’s disbarment trial today that the lawyer endangered public protection by smuggling witness documents out of a triple-murder defendant’s jail cell in 2010.
“People were reluctant to testify” after the smuggling by defense attorney Lorna Brown became known, district attorney’s Inspector Mike Foster told State Bar Court Judge Patrice McElroy in San Francisco.
“They get very nervous about their safety. There’s a perception that if you’re out there and you come in to help prosecutors or police, you’re subject to being dealt with on the street,” Foster testified.
Brown, 67, of Berkeley, formerly represented Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV, who was convicted in 2011 of three counts of murder for ordering the executions of investigative journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other men in Oakland in 2007.
Bey, 27, of Oakland, was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison.
The State Bar is seeking to have Brown forfeit her license to practice law because of her actions in taking documents out of Bey’s Santa Rita Jail cell in Dublin on March 8, 2010, and lying about the incident to investigators in an initial interview on April 13, 2010.
The documents smuggled by Brown in two sealed envelopes included a witness list; transcriptions of three witness statements with handwritten notes allegedly written by Bey; and a sealed letter to Bey’s common-law wife, Tiffany Wade, in which he instructed her to destroy evidence, according to State Bar attorneys.
The bar attorneys have claimed in a court filing that handwritten notes on the three witness statements were “most likely instructions” to a Bey lieutenant, Gary Popoff, “as to which witnesses to eliminate.”
Brown has acknowledged that the smuggled materials she gave to a Bey relative included a witness list, the three witness statements and a sealed card to Wade. But she has denied knowing about the alleged handwritten notes or the contents of the card to Wade.
Yusef Bey IV lawyer faces disbarment [Chron]
Today was the first day of Brown’s State Bar Court disciplinary trial, which is expected to end Wednesday or Thursday.
Because Brown has admitted to two State Bar charges, the issue before McElroy is what punishment to impose.
The two charges that Brown has stipulated to are taking documents from a prisoner without permission of the jail warden and lying to investigators in the initial interview.
Brown’s lawyers have asked for suspension of her license for six months to two years, arguing that penalty is appropriate because the smuggling charge is equivalent to a misdemeanor.
Bar attorneys are seeking disbarment on the ground that Brown’s actions were unethical, undermined the criminal justice system and put Bey witnesses at risk.
After the trial ends, McElroy will prepare a written recommendation to the California Supreme Court, which will have the final say on disciplinary action.
Foster testified today that his office learned from an anonymous tip on March 11, 2010, that the Bey relative to whom Brown had given the envelopes was about to give them to Popoff, a convicted felon and bakery associate who called himself Bey’s “No. 1 soldier.”
“I know that Gary Popoff was a dangerous individual,” Foster told McElroy.
As a result of the tip, Foster, two other investigators and two Oakland police officers arrested Popoff as he drove off a freeway in Oakland that evening and seized the envelopes.
Foster said one of the witness statements in the envelopes was by Devaughndre Broussard, who had been convicted of fatally shooting Bailey and one other victim. At the time, Broussard was in prison and was preparing to testify against Bey at his upcoming trial.
Foster said that a note allegedly in Bey’s writing named the San Francisco street where Broussard had lived and stated, “Gary, this is where his people are.”
Foster said that note appeared to be instructing Popoff to “make an effort to intimidate or harm the family” of Broussard.
The trial will continue Wednesday morning with testimony from retired Alameda County District Attorney’s Inspector Kathleen Boyovich, who may be the State Bar’s final witness, according to bar spokeswoman Laura Ernde.
Brown, who was questioned by State Bar attorney Robin Brune this morning, is then expected to be called back to the stand by her own lawyer, Vicki Young, according to Ernde.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News