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State Bar Court urges two-year suspension for Maureen Kallins

Controversial criminal defense lawyer MAUREEN KALLINS [#95038], 56, who often clashed with judges and others in the courtroom during her high-profile career, should be suspended for two years, prove her fitness to practice and make restitution before regaining her license, according to a State Bar Court judge. Her “behavior clearly and repeatedly crossed the line from zealous advocacy to contemptuous disrespect in the courtroom,” wrote Judge JoAnn Remke, who presided over a five-day trial last April. “In (Kallins’) apparent fervor to win, she lost sight of her professional and ethical responsibilities.”

Remke found that Kallins committed 14 acts of misconduct in nine separate client matters, including: failure to perform legal services competently, communicate with clients, return unearned fees of $21,500, maintain respect for the courts or report judicial sanctions, and she misled the court, thus committing an act of moral turpitude.

Remke’s recommended discipline will go to the Supreme Court for action.

Kallins has been ineligible to practice since 2001, when she was suspended for failing to pay bar dues or complete MCLE requirements. She has moved from Marin County to Washington.

But over a four-year period prior to that, Remke said, Kallins was found in contempt eight times as a result of “insolent and disruptive behavior” in the courtroom. In addition, she did not refund unearned fees to six clients.

In several of those matters, the clients discharged Kallins when they became dissatisfied with her lack of work or their inability to communicate with her.

For example, Kallins was hired to prepare a writ of habeas corpus for a client whose sisters agreed to a fee of $25,000. They paid five installments totaling $18,500 and tried repeatedly to contact Kallins or her husband, without success. A year after hiring Kallins they fired her and requested an accounting of their money and a return of their file and any unearned fees. Four months later, Kallins told the sisters she did not have the money; two months after that, she said she owed them $9,050. Although the sisters disputed the figure, they agreed to accept three monthly payments. When they received no money, they hired a lawyer and settled the dispute for $11,000. “While the sisters did not believe that (Kallins) had earned the remaining $7,500 ($18,500 minus $11,000), they wanted to move on and thus agreed to settle.”

Kallins’ payments stopped at $5,000, so the sisters filed a breach of contract suit against her and her husband, winning a default judgment for $8,186, which has not been paid.

When they hired a new attorney to handle the habeas petition, he testified that Kallins had not done any preliminary work.

Remke also found that in a federal trial, Kallins misled U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker about the existence of a fee agreement with a client whose parents paid her a $50,000 fee. Although Kallins denies she ever admitted to the court that she did not have a fee agreement, Remke didn’t buy it and found that Kallins committed acts of moral turpitude.

The judge reserved her most severe criticism for Kallins’ behavior in three criminal trials that she said “clearly and repeatedly crossed the line from zealous advocacy to contemptuous disrespect in the courtroom.”

The three judges who presided over the trials testified against Kallins; each said she was the only lawyer they ever held in contempt.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Joseph Hurley described Kallins’ conduct as “rude, offensive, disorderly, insulting and insolent toward the judge,” and said the jury was repeatedly inconvenienced because he had to ask them to leave the courtroom.

Judge Jeffrey Horner, also of Alameda County, held Kallins in contempt five times (twice in one day) and four times sentenced her to five days in jail, rulings that Kallins appealed and lost in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Kallins appealed another contempt finding, but was rejected by the Court of Appeal, which described her “gross misconduct, which created what could be described as a ‘trial from hell’ . . . In our collective 97 years in the legal profession, we have seldom seen such unprofessional, offensive and contemptuous conduct by an attorney in a court of law.”

Kallins accused the judges of judicial bias and sexism and threatened to report one to the Commission on Judicial Performance.

Remke noted that Kallins’ brother died suddenly during one trial, causing her severe emotional difficulties, and she acknowledged the laudatory testimony of seven witnesses who praised Kallins’ lawyering skills and devotion to her clients. The judge also said Kallins practiced for 17 years without a record of discipline and has a long record of community work.

But she said she was particularly troubled that despite the many rulings against her, Kallins “continues to argue . . . that there was judicial, prosecutorial and gender bias against her in (one case). There is no evidence of such bias. Her lack of remorsefulness is of great concern.” Indeed, said Remke, Kallins was “flattered” that one appellate court had dedicated an opinion to her.

Kallins argued that a private reproval with probation was a sufficient penalty for her misconduct. Her husband and attorney, Charles Gretsch, declined to comment on Remke’s decision, noting that the case is not final until the Supreme Court acts. He said he has no plans to appeal Remke’s recommendation.

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