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State Sen. Leland Yee leaves Federal Court in San Francisco, Calif., after posting $500,000 bail Wednesday March 26, 2014, following his arrest on federal weapons charges. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

State Sen. Leland Yee has turned to a tough former federal and state prosecutor who has handled everything from organized crime cases to murder trials to defend him against federal corruption charges.

Yee on Wednesday signed up San Francisco attorney James Lassart to replace Paul DeMeester, who has represented him since he was charged with gun trafficking and corruption last week. DeMeester told this newspaper that the court would be notified Wednesday of the change in representation.

Lassart, 71, could not immediately be reached for comment.

He may make his first appearance for Yee as soon as next week, when the embattled legislator is scheduled to appear again in court. Federal prosecutors are expected to secure a federal grand jury indictment any time to replace the current set of charges, and Yee and other defendants in the case would have to be arraigned on the new indictment.

Lassart is a senior lawyer with the San Francisco law firm Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, handling a mix of cases but heavily involved in recent years in representing police officers in hot water. He recently represented a South San Francisco fire battalion chief charged with running a bookmaking operation and represented San Francisco police officers involved in a notorious off-duty brawl in 2002.

But Lassart is best known in Bay Area legal circles for his work as a prosecutor in both the U.S. attorney's office and San Francisco district attorney's office.

As a federal prosecutor between 1982 and 1986, he headed the organized crime strike force in Northern California. The case against Yee was an outgrowth of an FBI investigation into Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow and his reputed Asian organized crime organization.

Lassart also was in the San Francisco district attorney's office from 1970 to 1982, handling murder cases and rising to a high-ranking assistant district attorney post.

Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, will have a staunch Republican to defend him. Lassart was a finalist for the U.S. attorney's job in 2002 during the Bush administration, but the White House instead selected Kevin Ryan. Lassart had close ties to former Republican U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello.

Other key defendants in the case have also wound up with some well-known defense attorneys in recent days. Martha Boersch, a former white collar prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office, was appointed Wednesday to represent Chow, and prominent San Francisco lawyer James Brosnahan has been hired to represent Keith Jackson, the San Francisco political consultant tied to Yee's wrongdoing.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz