Former Tiburon mayor reproved after vehicle code violation

It doesn't pay to postpone your car registration. Former Tiburon Mayor MICHAEL FRIEDMAN [#38480] found that out the hard way when he put an incorrect sticker on his license plates in 1993. He pleaded guilty to a vehicle code violation in Marin County Municipal Court, and three years later was publicly reproved by the State Bar. Friedman's problems began in September 1993 when a police officer in the affluent community north of San Francisco noticed a December registration sticker on the license plate of the mayor's 1975 Olds-mobile Monza. The sticker replaced the original September registration.

The officer reported to the Tiburon police chief, who advised the busy mayor to take care of business. The advice continued, unheeded, for nearly two months.

One former town official remembered the problem as an awkward situation, in which officialdom's hand finally was forced.

In November, the police chief, town manager, town attorney and Marin district attorney "took action to terminate the use of the automobile until (Friedman) made the proper repairs," according to a stipulation Friedman reached with the bar.

His license plates were impounded.

Although the car finally passed the smog test and was properly registered, the district attorney charged the mayor with one count of unlawfully displaying evidence of registration. Friedman pleaded guilty and received a one-year probation and a $350 fine.

But the story doesn't end there.

Because Friedman, 57, was criminally convicted, the matter was automatically referred to the State Bar. Although the vehicle code violation did not involve moral turpitude, it did constitute misconduct warranting discipline.

According to Lisa Vorgias, the bar attorney who handled the matter, Friedman's visibility as an elected official made his conduct unacceptable. "It left the impression of the abuse of power, and that's what we really want to eradicate," she said.

In addition, the type of statute violated in conviction referrals is important. In Friedman's case, Vorgias explained, it was a "specific intent" crime, meaning the mayor pleaded guilty to having "specifically taken steps to violate the law."

Friedman wrote a letter of apology to the bar and presented several other letters attesting to his good character. John J. Davids, his law partner for 25 years, described him as "a person of the utmost integrity, honesty and ethics."

Arne Werchick, a former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association and a consultant to the bar on disciplinary matters, wrote, "I would unhesitatingly entrust to him any matter requiring complete personal and professional integrity."

Friedman could not be reached for comment.