California Supreme Court rejects proposed punishment for former attorney of Yusuf Bey IV
By Thomas Peele, The Chauncey Bailey Project
In an unusual move, the California Supreme Court has rejected a proposed two-year suspension for the former lawyer of convicted triple killer Yusuf Bey IV, indicating she may face a more severe punishment for her role in an alleged plot to kill witnesses two years ago.
Attorney Lorna Brown could now lose her law license for a longer period of time or be disbarred for smuggling what prosecutors have alleged was a hit list out of Santa Rita Jail following a March 2010 meeting with Bey, the former leader of Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland.
The high court’s decision is the latest twist in the only remaining investigation stemming from the murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey nearly five years ago, which Bey was convicted of ordering.
In refusing to accept a plea deal between Brown and the state Bar Association reached in December, the high court sent her case back to state Bar Court, where attorneys are tried for alleged ethics violations. Brown’s was one of 24 disciplinary recommendations the Supreme Court, which has the final say on lawyer discipline, recently refused to sign off on, an “unprecedented number” that signals it is taking a tougher stance on legal ethics, an expert said.
Brown’s case was “returned to the State Bar for further consideration of the recommended discipline in light of the applicable attorney discipline standards,” according to a statement on the Supreme Court’s website. A court spokeswoman, Leanne Kozak, said justices reached the decision during an “internal review” of Brown’s plea deal last month.
Brown’s attorney, Michael Cardoza, did not return a phone message Wednesday.
For Brown, 66, of Berkeley, a defense attorney who also served as a substitute Alameda County Superior Court Judge, the decision likely means that she could go to trial in Bar Court and face a punishment has high as disbarment if convicted of allegations she broke ethical rules by smuggling documents out of jail for her former client. She has admitted carrying the documents but told investigators she thought they were love letters to Bey’s common-law wife.
But prosecutors have alleged the papers were a hit list of witnesses that Bey wanted killed. It ended up in the possession of Bey’s self-proclaimed “No. 1 soldier,” Gary Popoff, who was arrested before anyone was hurt. Neither Bey nor Brown was charged with a crime in the matter.
The Chauncey Bailey Project reported in April that Brown had committed apparent ethical violations — including ignoring an order by a Superior Court judge to cease all contact with Bey — that were not mentioned in her Bar Court file. A spokeswoman for the State Bar, which acts as prosecutor in ethics cases, said in an email Wednesday that it “will take into consideration any new and relevant factors that may have arisen since the original recommendation was sent to the Supreme Court.”
“It is very rare” that the Supreme Court rejects agreements reached in state Bar Court, said Diane Karpman, a former Bar Court referee. It means that justices found that the proposed sanction “was so far off base” that it could not be accepted, she said.
Days after Popoff’s arrest, Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson removed Brown from Bey’s case, ordering her during a hastily called meeting in his chambers to cease all contact with him. But the next day, she visited him again in jail, which legal experts have said was a serious ethical violation. It was not mentioned in her Bar Court plea agreement.
Bey, 26, the former leader of Your Black Muslim Bakery, was convicted last year of ordering Bailey and two other men murdered in summer 2007 and sentenced to three life terms without parole eligibility.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has said Brown had promised to retire from law in exchange for not being criminally prosecuted and then reneged on the deal. Her spokeswoman said Wednesday that O’Malley’s staff would “provide more input to the State Bar upon request.”
Contact Thomas Peele at tpeele@bayareanewsgroup, com. Follow him at twitter.com/thomas_peele.