The California Supreme Court correctly rejected a slap on the wrist for an attorney who smuggled a hit list out of Santa Rita Jail, disobeyed a judge's subsequent order to stay away from her incarcerated client and lied to prosecutors.
The case of defense attorney Lorna Patton Brown should shock anyone who cares about the integrity of our judicial system. Brown represented Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV, who was eventually convicted of murdering journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other men. If not for a jailhouse snitch, Bey might have initiated another murder, and Brown would have been an accomplice.
Brown's explanation doesn't make sense. She claims she thought the envelope she couriered for Bey contained an exchange of apology between him and his wife. Yet, an Alameda County investigator said the envelope, which held a highlighted list of witnesses' names, was addressed by Brown to a parolee self-described as Bey's "No."1 soldier."
After the plot unraveled, Brown ignored the judge's stay-away. She visited Bey in jail the following day.
District Attorney Nancy O'Malley's office dropped the ball on criminal prosecution of Brown. The State Bar followed with an absurdly lenient punishment recommendation that would have allowed the attorney to practice law again within as little as six months.
The high court has given both agencies a chance to at least partially rectify the situation. In what seems to be
This time, O'Malley needs to speak up rather than sit by passively. Her failure to aggressively pursue this case has been appalling. She should have filed criminal charges against Brown. And she should have actively pushed for tough State Bar discipline. She did neither.
Instead, she sat on information that Brown had defied a judge's order to stay away from Bey after the hit list was uncovered. It took journalist Thomas Peele, this newspaper's lead investigative reporter, to bring that information to light.
O'Malley's latest statement through her spokeswoman that her staff would "provide more input to the State Bar upon request" shows a continuing failure to appreciate the gravity of the situation.
Upon request? Where's the proactive advocacy for justice? That sounds more like a bureaucrat than a prosecutor charged with protecting the public's interest.
As for the State Bar, its original recommendation was ridiculous. By its own findings, Brown had committed a misdemeanor by taking documents from a prison without the warden's permission and lied about it to district attorney investigators. That alone should have been enough for disbarment.
Then, add on that the documents contained witnesses' highlighted names, that she reneged on a promise to the district attorney's office that she would give up her law license and that she defied the stay-away order.
There is no reason Brown should ever be allowed to practice law again.