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Disbarment urged for ‘bully’ accused of harassing judges

A State Bar Court judge has recommended disbarment of a Beverly Hills lawyer he compared to a bully and a gladiator for misconduct that was “in a class of its own.” RICHARD ISAAC FINE [#55259], 67, faces the loss of his license for a pattern of repeatedly challenging judges who ruled against him — acts that involved moral turpitude.

Continuing that pattern, Fine moved for a new trial and reconsideration of the bar court’s ruling, and just as several superior and court of appeal judges did before him, Judge Richard Honn denied the motions. Fine was placed on inactive status Oct. 17. If the disbarment recommendation is upheld after all bar court proceedings are exhausted, it will be sent to the Supreme Court.

Honn found that Fine committed 16 acts of moral turpitude by repeatedly challenging judges who ruled against him, filing frivolous actions and meritless appeals and making misrepresentations to the court. Fine’s actions, Honn wrote, were done “out of spite, for revenge and to harass almost every judicial officer who ruled against him.” When his efforts to disqualify judges in various state courts failed, Fine took his campaign to the federal courts, where he filed more lawsuits against the same judges.

Fine “played the courts like a bully in a child’s game of dodge ball — retaliating by aggressively throwing the ball back at those who just knocked him out of the center,” Honn wrote. “But what may have started out as a game soon escalated into a war, with meritless litigation tactics as the primary weapons . . . In (Fine’s) world, he became a gladiator, waging battle by whatever means he could muster, irrespective of his ethical duties.”

Fine says the charges against him are “totally ridiculous” and a product of politics. The cases he filed against judges were not retaliatory, he said, but instead were based on his belief that judges who accept money from a county fund to augment their compensation have a conflict of interest in any matter involving government municipalities. “This is the ultimate when you have people in power abusing the system for their own self-gain,” Fine said.

In 1996, as a veteran attorney with more than 20 years of practice under his belt, Fine filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles seeking damages arising from about 1,000 medical exams conducted by an imposter doctor for an insurance company. The original group of 19 clients grew to 491 after the class was certified; Fine represented about 75 percent of the clients as class counsel.

Superior Court Commissioner Bruce Mitchell handled the proceedings, approving a settlement in 1999 of $7.868 million. Attorney’s fees amounted to about $2.6 million and Fine stood to earn as much as $1.9 million for his work on the case. Just before a “fairness hearing,” Fine filed a motion for partial distribution of attorney’s fees — a $1.4 million advance for himself — and a partial distribution of $2,000 to each of the original 19 clients from the settlement proceeds. The judge agreed to the distribution to the clients but denied any distribution to the lawyers.

After another Fine motion, Mitchell authorized a partial distribution of $450,000 in attorney’s fees. Fine then sought more money and filed three motions for an expedited hearing (all denied). Mitchell eventually awarded him another $168,750 in fees. By then, other attorneys in the case sought sanctions against Fine. Fine says after the two initial distributions, he never asked for more money.

Once Mitchell began ruling against Fine, Honn said, Fine embarked on “a litigation rampage” against Mitchell, ultimately filing 12 disqualification challenges against him. Another superior court judge sent him to jail for three days and imposed a $1,000 sanction. The court of appeal ruled against Fine, finding his challenges to Mitchell were without merit and contained false allegations.

In response to the multitude of adverse rulings, Fine filed a federal civil rights suit against three court of appeal judges, two superior court judges, two court clerks and Mitchell.

Mitchell also presided over another class action suit Fine filed against the city of Los Angeles, alleging that it overcharged residents on their sewer bills. The city sought sanctions of $25,000 against Fine for filing a faulty motion for reconsideration that contained inaccurate information. Before a hearing could be held, Fine challenged Mitchell, accusing him, among other things, of misconduct in the first class action case. More court proceedings ensued, including another petition to the court of appeal and a request for review by the Supreme Court.

Wrote bar court Judge Honn: “Everything (Fine) did in filing his frivolous challenges and petitions was done to harass the targeted bench officers and to interfere with the prompt resolution of the cases.”

Fine filed disqualification challenges against Mitchell in four other matters, each one frivolous, said Honn. He also filed three more federal civil rights lawsuits against judges, claiming variously that they denied him due process, equal protection and property interests, among other rights.

His actions, Honn wrote, amounted to “an almost never-ending attack on anyone (including attorneys and judicial officers) who disagreed with him or otherwise got in his way.”

Fine said nothing he did supports Honn’s conclusions and that all his cases were filed legitimately, under valid statutes.

Although Honn acknowledged Fine’s impressive academic background, which includes a law degree from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, he gave little credit to Fine’s claims of good character and community service. Fine’s descriptions of himself as the “Don Quixote of the Law” and “The People’s Lawyer” were self-congratulatory, Honn said, and he produced no witnesses to attest to his good deeds.

Fine planned to seek a stay of his suspension from the Supreme Court and to appeal the disbarment recommendation to the bar court’s review department.

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