Two San Jose lawyers lose their efforts to avoid suspension from practice
By Nancy McCarthy
The California Supreme Court last month declined to hear appeals by two San Jose lawyers who sought to avoid suspension because of their misconduct. The State Bar Court had recommended that former Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Benjamin Field and criminal defense attorney Jamie L. Harmon be suspended. Their cases are not related.
Field (bar number 168197) will be suspended for four years and placed on five years of probation as a result of misconduct in four matters. Harmon (bar number 112320) will get a six-month suspension and two years of probation for committing nine acts of misconduct in six matters.
The State Bar Court’s review department had recommended the suspensions in February for Field and in May for Harmon, who also goes by the name Jamie Harley. Both will be suspended Sept. 10.
The court found that Field, 46, acted unethically prosecuting four cases:
- He violated a court order by obtaining a dental examination of a minor accused of sexual assault. As a result, the court ordered the evidence suppressed.
- In another sexual assault case, he intentionally withheld a witness’ statement that was favorable to the defense in a habeas proceeding. The judge handling the case found that Field committed a discovery violation.
- He also withheld a defendant’s statement that would have helped co-defendants in a murder case. The court dismissed a 25-year gun enhancement.
- Field made an improper closing argument in a sexually violent predator (SVP) case. The appellate court reversed the judgment committing the defendant as a SVP and described Field’s closing argument as “deceptive and reprehensible.”
The bar court’s review panel found that Field abused his office and violated the due process rights of several criminal defendants and said he “disregarded prosecutorial accountability in favor of winning cases.”
Field was a career prosecutor and one-time rising star in the DA’s office before he ran into ethical trouble. The review panel said his misconduct began shortly after his 1993 admission to the bar and spanned 10 years. He resigned from the district attorney’s office in July 2009 and joined Working Partnerships USA, a San Jose company that addresses the needs of working families in Silicon Valley.
In recommending the harsh punishment for Field, review Judge Catherine Purcell wrote, “Although our system of administering justice is adversarial in nature and prosecutors must be zealous advocates in prosecuting their cases, it cannot be at the cost of justice.
“Field lost sight of this goal . . . and in doing so, he disregarded the foundation from which any prosecutor’s authority flows — ‘The first, best and most effective shield against injustice for an individual accused . . . must be found . . . in the integrity of the prosecutor.’”
Although the misconduct could have resulted in disbarment, the court found extensive mitigation, including Field’s cooperation with the bar’s investigation, an impressive record of pro bono service and “an extraordinary demonstration of good character.” In particular, it expressly noted the testimony of former Santa Clara District Attorney George Kennedy, who lauded Field’s “extraordinary professional skills and good character” and said he considers Field an honest person who is not intentionally corrupt.
Also a former deputy district attorney, Harmon, 53, handled a busy criminal law practice that often included 100 to 200 open files at a time. Although she originally was charged with 20 counts of professional misconduct in 10 matters, the review department found she committed nine acts of misconduct in six matters, primarily involving mismanagement of her practice. She gave incorrect advice about the prison term one client would receive under a plea agreement and provided incorrect information about the consequences of a plea in a serious sex offense case. She forgot about one client’s traffic trial and did not appear, and in three matters, she did not properly respond to the clients’ requests for information, for their files or for refunds of their fees.
But the bar court found that Harmon’s problems primarily were the result of a mismanaged practice and did not involve dishonesty. Instead, it found compelling mitigation, including nearly two decades of discipline-free practice and Harmon’s cooperation with the bar’s investigation.
Harmon faces far more serious problems as a result of her federal conviction in July on five counts of money laundering. Prosecutors charged her with laundering more than $100,000 from her client’s illicit business trafficking in stolen computer equipment. Harmon said she didn’t know the money came from stolen goods.
The conviction, separate from the State Bar charges, is not yet final and Harmon has the right to appeal. If it stands, she could be summarily disbarred.