April 30, 2010
The Fine Pursuit of Exposing CorruptionBy Janet Levy
In a disturbing case of politically motivated retaliation, prominent Beverly Hills attorney Dr. Richard Fine has been incarcerated in coercive solitary confinement for close to fourteen months at the Los Angeles County Men's Jail. That confinement will continue under a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. Dr. Fine was ostensibly jailed under civil contempt of court charges for a one-day-late filing of supporting case documentation in the Marina Strand Colony II Homeowners Association lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles and for his subsequent refusal to submit personal asset information to Superior Court Judge David Yaffe, the presiding judge in the case, to satisfy Yaffe's demand for a $47,000 fine.
Yet the jail time actually stems from Dr. Fine's exposure of widespread judicial and government corruption after Dr. Fine argued in court that Yaffe received illegal payments from Los Angeles County, a party to the case. In his efforts to disqualify Judge Yaffe from ruling on the case, he cited Yaffe's failure to disclose this information on the required Economic Disclosure Form. When Dr. Fine refused to comply with the judge's retaliatory demands, Yaffe charged him with contempt and remanded him to the Los Angeles County Men's Jail.
Dr. Fine's plight demonstrates the grim fate of those who come forward in good faith to expose malfeasance, public or private. Regardless of the nobility of their cause and the valiance of their efforts, few whistle-blowers emerge as heroes. Targeted organizations typically close ranks, suppress negative information, and dedicate themselves to the marginalization and destruction of the moral individualist. Even in a democratic society, loyalty and conformity are valued over the uncovering of corruption and misconduct. Those who come forward to report illegal or untoward activity are often the victims of vindictive witch-hunts.
Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds is one such casualty. Reporting for her first day of duty shortly after 9/11, she was shocked at the anti-Americanism exhibited by Muslim linguists and the open celebrations of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Edmunds observed that many of her Muslim colleagues, most with top-secret clearances, routinely tipped off targets of investigations, purposely mistranslated or omitted critical information from documents and recordings, or mismarked communications as "not pertinent" to the agency's counterterrorist efforts. One colleague who worked for Turkish groups under active FBI surveillance failed to report a trip to Turkey to meet with a designated target. Armed with multitudinous information about the nefarious actions of colleagues, Edmonds, out of a sense of civic duty as an American citizen, reported the misconduct to superiors. She was summarily fired. Astonishingly, the FBI and the Pentagon refused to conduct a formal investigation of the alleged security breaches, although contacts within the FBI and the Department of Justice agreed with her allegations.
Dr. Fine's situation is similarly shocking. Never convicted of any crime, Dr. Fine has enjoyed a forty-year career practicing law. It includes stints as an antitrust lawyer for the Department of Justice, Special Counsel for the City of Los Angeles, diplomat to the king of Norway, and a private taxpayer-advocate attorney. However, his troubles stem from his uncovering widespread corruption in the L.A. Superior Court justice system.
Despite winning multiple judgments for taxpayers in other counties in California, Dr. Fine had been puzzled by his inability to obtain a favorable ruling in Los Angeles County. Upon further investigation, he discovered an unlawful practice that had been widespread since 1987: L.A. County Supervisors were using taxpayer funds to pay Superior Court judges for deciding cases in favor of the County. Further research revealed that during the period from 2005-2009, only three cases were ruled in favor of plaintiffs against the County of Los Angeles. Dr. Fine estimated that payouts since 1987 from the County to L.A. Superior Court judges amounted to three hundred fifty million dollars.
Dr. Fine raised the issue publicly in 2002. Judicial Watch, a non-partisan educational foundation, took note. In 2006, Judicial Watch independently initiated a lawsuit against L.A. County on behalf of taxpayer Harold P. Sturgeon, challenging the county's judicial payments. The ruling in the case affirmed that the salaries and benefits for judges were determined by the State alone and that judges were not entitled to "double benefits" from the County.
However, during a budget crunch in February 2009, at the behest of the California Judicial Council headed by Chief Justice Ronald George (a former L.A. Superior Court judge), Governor Schwarzenegger rushed through immunity legislation -- Senate Bill X2 11 -- legalizing the payments and providing retroactive immunity for judges and government officials from criminal prosecution, civil liability, and disciplinary action. Although county payments to judges had been ruled unconstitutional in the Sturgeon case -- a violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as a violation of the California Constitution -- the California legislature took action to ensure continued payments to the judges.
Meanwhile, Dr. Fine has endured harsh conditions in custody and suffered damage to his career, family, and health. He was denied phone contact, showering privileges, and access to an attorney or pen and pencil for several weeks after being jailed. At one point, his dental plate broke, and he couldn't eat normally for six weeks until it was repaired. Dr. Fine's cell lights have remained lit at all times, for a while he navigated around a cell with leaking pipes, and he has been allowed outside on only two occasions, both within a mesh cage. He was placed on an unwarranted suicide watch under which he was subjected to intense scrutiny and forced to eat with his hands. Disbarred under false pretenses, with his career and livelihood damaged, Dr. Fine is expected to lose his family home to foreclosure on May 5th. In addition to economic ruin from being unable to work for fourteen months, Dr. Fine has been unable to care for his ailing wife.
Full Disclosure Network, an Emmy Award-winning cable and internet television program, has been at the forefront covering the injustice suffered by Dr. Fine for his valiant fight against judicial corruption in Los Angeles. In order to gain access to Dr. Fine and tell his important story, Full Disclosure was forced to file a federal lawsuit, represented by Judicial Watch, against the county.
The legal process of seeking justice for Dr. Fine and securing his release has been arduous and fraught with roadblocks. It took three months after his incarceration before Dr. Fine was able to file a Writ of Habeas Corpus, Fine v. L.A. County Sheriff Leroy Baca. To date, Sheriff Baca has not responded to the writ, denying Dr. Fine his right to due process. No hearing or release dates have been set in the case.
Dr. Fine has filed multiple appeals to no avail. In June 2009, Dr. Fine filed a Writ of Certiorari (Fine v. State Bar) in which he argued against the illegalities of the State Bar Association disbarment proceedings. A second Petition for Writ of Certiorari was filed on March 23, 2010 (Fine v. L.A. County Sheriff Leroy Baca) challenging the Ninth Circuit's denial of his Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. A reply brief is due by May 17, 2010. Dr. On April 26, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Richard Fine v. L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca to deny Dr. Fine's Stay of Execution, allowing the coercive confinement to continue but refusing to dismiss his Writ of Certiorari. Thus far, no attorney has been willing to assume the risk of defending Fine. The ACLU, a court-ordered monitor of conditions and medical care within all Los Angeles County jail facilities, has stated that they "lack the resources" to take on the case.
Thus, Richard Fine's confinement continues. Individuals like Richard Fine and Sibel Edmonds -- who possess the courage and integrity to speak out against injustice and corruption, no matter how controversial, entrenched, or legitimized in our power structure -- deserve our full support and respect. Such mavericks help preserve and perpetuate the democratic process, which is strengthened and endures thanks to their scrutiny. Their ability to conduct such scrutiny without reprisal is a critical barometer of the health of our constitutional republic. We cannot sit idly by and allow the powers that be to silence the critical voices that give our nation its strength of character and that ensure our freedom.
Related video material from Full Disclosure Network:
Jailhouse interview with Dr. Fine.
Incarceration conditions of Dr. Fine.