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Lawyer gets 2-year suspension for smuggling papers out of jail

A Berkeley defense attorney must surrender her law license for two years for smuggling documents out of jail on behalf of a defendant later convicted in the notorious murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey. Lorna Patton Brown [#133795], 67, was suspended for four years, stayed, placed on three years’ probation and ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court. The order took effect Jan. 5, 2014.

Brown initially stipulated to two counts of misconduct related to her representation of accused murderer Yusuf Bey IV, but the California Supreme Court returned the matter for further consideration as to the recommended discipline.

In concluding that Brown’s behavior warranted more than the six-month period of actual suspension she stipulated to, State Bar Court Judge Pat McElroy wrote that Brown committed acts involving concealment and dishonesty and that she “knew she should not have been relaying personal messages from her client without the permission of jail authorities.

“Respondent willfully ignored her duties as an attorney, as well as the health and safety of the witnesses who planned to testify against her client. And when the District Attorney’s Office began investigating the matter and questioned respondent about her actions, she lied,” McElroy wrote in her decision. “All told, the ramifications of respondent’s misconduct could have been devastating.”

Brown was appointed in August 2009 as counsel for Bey, who was indicted on three counts of murder, after Bey’s previous attorney withdrew from the case because he was unable to control his client. Brown’s misconduct sprang from a March 2010 visit she made to Bey at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, during which he gave her legal documents. The papers included grand jury and witness interview transcripts and a card addressed to his common-law wife, Alaia Bey. The card contained written material that Brown should have not taken from the jail without first getting permission.

A couple of days later, Brown met Bey’s sister-in-law Aisha Taylor on a street corner, where she gave her documents in manila envelopes, including the card for Alaia and a list of witnesses’ names Brown placed in an envelope so Taylor could pass them along to Bey’s “number one soldier” Gary Popoff. Authorities learned about the documents from a confidential informant and recovered the envelopes from Popoff shortly after Taylor gave them to him.

When first interviewed by investigators from the district attorney’s office, Brown denied removing the documents from the jail without permission. She said she did not know about the greeting card and had not helped deliver the witness list to Popoff. Brown asked to be removed from the case later that month over a conflict of interest and ultimately volunteered to be interviewed a second time, during which she admitted to lying.

In mitigation, Brown had no prior record of discipline in 22 years of practicing law, cooperated with the State Bar during the disciplinary investigation and proceedings and showed remorse and a willingness to accept responsibility for her misconduct. She received limited mitigation for testimony from six character witnesses.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Counsel Robin Brune.