Commentary: Case against Bey attorney must be pursued
The allegations surrounding defense attorney Lorna Patton Brown, which have now been publicly known for nearly six months, go to the heart of the integrity of our judicial system. They must be investigated with alacrity and, if justified, she must be quickly charged.
Brown represented Yusuf Bey IV, who will soon stand trial on charges he ordered the murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other in 2007.
According to a court affidavit written by an inspector from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, Bey used Brown in March to smuggle out of Santa Rita Jail in Dublin a list of witnesses he wanted killed.
In April, Brown resigned as Bey’s attorney. And now comes word that Brown is giving up her license to practice law. But that’s not enough. District Attorney Nancy O’Malley must get to the bottom of the allegations and, if warranted, prosecute Brown. If Brown is guilty, if she so badly abused her privileges as an officer of the court, she must go to prison.
The cases of Bey and Brown represent threats to some of the most fundamental rights of our constitutional system. Bey stands accused of trying to silence a reporter who was exercising his First Amendment rights. Under the Sixth Amendment, Bey is entitled to a fair trial and the assistance of an attorney.
But the attorney-client confidentiality that’s essential for an effective defense places a trust in lawyers like Brown to maintain professional standards. An attorney cannot help a client commit another crime. When lawyers cross that line, it shakes the public’s confidence in the integrity of the system.
It must not be tolerated.
In Brown’s case, there was no reason she should have agreed to serve as a courier. Worse, according to the affidavit, there was no doubt the documents would eventually be delivered to parolee Gary Popoff, aka Rasoul Bey, who has described himself as Bey’s “number one soldier.” Perhaps Brown didn’t know what was in the documents, but that would require her to be incredibly naive — especially considering she was already defending Bey against charges he had ordered others killed.
Fortunately, investigators and Oakland police stopped Popoff before anyone else was hurt, although two witnesses were relocated for their safety. Had the plot been carried out, Brown could have had blood on her hands.
We recognize that O’Malley and the lawyers in her office are focused first on the prosecution of Bey. Indeed, that must be the top priority. But reporter Thomas Peele publicly revealed the allegations about Brown in early July. That case must also be pursued vigorously. Justice demands it.