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Kallins fights 18 misconduct charges in State Bar Court

Criminal defense lawyer Maureen Kallins, often in trouble for her zealous and sometimes combative courtroom style, came face to face last month with four judges with whom she clashed in recent years. On trial in the State Bar Court for 18 charges of misconduct, she aggressively questioned U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, who reported her to the bar for allegedly making a false statement about a fee agreement. She got right to the point:

“You don’t think I’m an able lawyer, do you?” 

“I do not,” the judge replied, adding, “I did not hold you in high regard as a lawyer.”

“Isn’t it true you granted all my motions?” Kallins asked.

“Yes.”

“At no time did you think I was a good lawyer?”

“I think that’s fair,” said Walker.

Kallins persisted. Was the judge prejudiced against her? What made him doubt her integrity? How many other lawyers had he referred to the bar for discipline? Had he questioned other lawyers about her in his chambers?

The judge, gray-haired and distinguished, answered her questions calmly, appearing unrattled during 90 minutes of testimony. He said later it was the first time he ever testified in court.

Kallins has not been entitled to practice since 2001, when she lost her license for not paying bar dues or complying with MCLE requirements. She has been ordered inactive three times since for not complying with fee arbitration awards.

The current misconduct charges include failing to refund unearned fees to five clients, three counts of charging an unconscionable fee, four counts of failing to maintain respect to the court, and single counts each of misleading a judge, failing to perform legal services competently, respond to clients’ status inquiries, obey court orders or report judicial sanctions and committing an act of moral turpitude.

Kallins, 57, has moved to Washington from Marin County and does not practice. But she’s fighting the bar charges and produced witnesses during five days of trial who disputed testimony about her bad behavior and said she was a target of what one called “pervasive gender bias” in the courts.

Under questioning by Kallins’ husband and attorney Charles Gretsch, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Kallins was an “outstanding lawyer” and a role model who often mentored young lawyers in his office. He said she was aggressive in court, but never advocated misconduct or disrespect. “She always told us it was important to be forceful but to play within the rules,” Adachi said.

Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Margo George said she watched Kallins give a closing argument that was “phenomenal.” Asked by Gretsch if Kallins misbehaved, George said, “Absolutely not. She was amazing.”

But Alameda County Superior Court Judges Jeffrey Horner and Joseph Hurley and Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard Gilmour disagreed. Horner, who ordered Kallins jailed for 20 days for contempt during a 1999 rape trial, testified that as he explained why he ordered the sentence, Kallins turned her back to the bench, bent over and shuffled some papers. “The only part of her anatomy visible to me was her hindquarters,” Horner said.

All three judges, who worked as deputy district attorneys before joining the bench said Kallins was the only lawyer they ever cited for contempt. All denied they were biased against women or Kallins.

Hurley testified that Kallins was loud, disrespectful, occasionally disruptive, made remarks under her breath, and otherwise behaved badly during a trial he presided over. He said Kallins accused him of sexism and threatened to report him to the Commission on Judicial Performance so many times that he finally told her to stop because he felt she was threatening the court.

She also accused Hurley of “ethnically cleansing” the jury when he agreed to dismiss a prospective juror who was African-American.

“I think Miss Kallins is a very bright person and she was very well-prepared,” Hurley said. “She seemed to spend so much time trying to break the rules.” Hurley cited her twice for contempt and fined her. The bar charged her with failing to maintain respect to the court and failure to report a sanction.

In the federal case presided over by Walker in 2000, Kallins represented Jaime Basalo on drug charges. Walker said at the time, the federal northern district was incurring substantial criminal defense costs for defendants who hired counsel for trial and then pleaded indigence for the appeal process. When Basalo asked for appointed counsel to handle the appeal of his conviction, Walker said he “was concerned about getting to the bottom of the arrangement” Basalo had with Kallins for representation and whether her $50,000 fee included representation on appeal.

When Walker asked if she had a written fee agreement, a requirement for any representation costing more than $1,000, he said he believed Kallins was “definitive in saying there was a written fee agreement” with Basalo. He said at a later hearing held when Kallins did not produce the agreement, she admitted she did not have one.

Explaining his belief that Kallins’ behavior was “extreme” enough to warrant a threat of criminal contempt, Walker said, “I don’t believe I’ve had before me as a judge a lawyer who made a flat and I thought apparent misrepresentation of the kind Ms. Kallins had made.”

As a result, he reported her to the bar.

Kallins said she never testified that there was no fee agreement, insisting she had one but couldn’t find it.

Gretsch also testified in his wife’s defense. He represented a co-defendant who was being tried with Kallins’ client before Judge Hurley. “The judge was perceptively less tolerant of you than of me,” Gretsch said.

Of Judge Horner, Gretsch said his attitude towards Kallins was “one of zero tolerance.” Gretsch said Kallins could not raise her voice without admonition from the bench, but the prosecutor, whom Gretsch said called Kallins a liar, a cheat, sleazy and underhanded, never was admonished.

The trial was scheduled to continue May 14.

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