Many OPED reporters have taken up the case of Richard Fine who has been imprisoned by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe for 15 months for civil contempt, and who remains in jail. The most recent coverage is a May 25, 2010 OPED essay by Roger Shuler, "Is California Prisoner a Victim of Judicial Retaliation?" Like most others, it argues that Fine is in essence a victim of retaliatory judicial discrimination, if not an outright political prisoner, held for his bold and courageous stand against institutional judicial corruption. I too have followed the Fine case, mostly through a local independent TV news program, "Full Disclosure Network," that has served as Mr. Fine's advocate. The deficiencies in this coverage finally led me to do my own research, which is summarized in the letter below to Leslie Dutton who owns and operates Full Disclosure Network. The letter shows that to his own detriment, Mr. Fine has done almost everything possible to sever the grounds of his imprisonment from the broader issue of his alleged exposure of judicial corruption that he claims is the true and only source of his imprisonment.
Richard Fine rots in jail for a very simple legal reason. As the attorney for Marina Strand, Fine launched a major real estate civil lawsuit against Los Angeles County and Del Rey Shores, but miscalculated the calendar and failed to file timely for a hearing. In order not to prejudice his client's right to proceed, Fine filed an affidavit of fault that automatically made him liable for reasonable compensatory legal costs and fees. But, instead of participating in the process to determine costs, Fine who was by this point ordered inactive by the State Bar and was no longer an attorney-of-record demanded that Judge David Yaffe disqualify himself from the case. At the time Fine made this demand he no longer had standing to do so (because he was neither a party nor current counsel), and contrary to law he used grounds that were known to him eight months before when the case-in-chief began. Fine refused to participate in the proper proceedings to determine the amount that he owed, and specifically refused to answer questions or produce documents in a debtor's examination that is standard procedure for assessing ability to pay. Fine's refusal to cooperate with the debtor's examination is the ground for the contempt charge that keeps him incarcerated until he complies with it. The entire matter would be a tempest in a teapot but for what it reveals about the sad state of Mr. Fine's psychiatric functioning, and also about the terrifically obscure and wasteful self-important machinations of the Court that permitted Fine to give the appearance of transforming his stubbornly deluded refusal to pay what he owes into a vast, but imaginary, Constitutional issue.
The claim urged so passionately by Fine's followers, viz., that he is being crucified for his crusading role in exposing judicial corruption, plays no obvious part in his incarceration whether or not Fine's allegations of judicial corruption are true. Mr. Fine is in jail because he refuses to comply with standard court procedures to assess his ability to pay the money that he admittedly owes.
Full Disclosure Network
337 Washington Blvd, Ste. #1
Marina del Rye, CA 90292
RE: Why Is Richard Fine in Jail?
A month ago, when we spoke by phone, I said that the piece missing from your account of the Richard Fine saga is a clear statement of precisely why he is in jail, i.e., the contempt charge. You were unable to say why clearly, but you told me to read the record and I have.
Any political crusader knows that to take on the Establishment one must be right on the facts and, if possible, right on the law. In other words, if you know that you will be treated with prejudice, you choose your fights wisely. Richard Fine has chosen to fight where he is wrong on the facts and by his own choice wrong on the law, i.e., he drew his line in the sand when he was by his own admission wrong on the facts and the law.
Several of Richard's pleadings cry out the injustice of Judge Yaffe sentencing him in excess of the five days allowed by CCP 1218, and his followers have been much moved by this seeming grave injustice. But, in fact, Fine is held exclusively under CCP 1219 (a) that allows:
(a) Except as provided in subdivisions (b) and (c), when the contempt consists of the omission to perform an act which is yet in the power of the person to perform, he or she may be imprisoned until he or she has performed it, and in that case the act shall be specified in the warrant of commitment. (MG: (b) and (c) do not apply to Fine.)
The difference between criminal and civil contempt is that criminal contempt is punitive in nature in response to past transgressions, whereas civil contempt is remedial, and may be coercive in order to achieve some possible and legitimate goal (here, compliance with the debtor examination). Fine has stated explicitly on the record that he will not provide information required by his debtor examination until all his habeas corpus appeals are exhausted, but then he would supply the required information.
I am exercising my rights of petition for habeas corpus. At such times, those rights are entirely finished. If in fact I lose with those writs, then I would answer the questions.
Thus, Fine has stated that the coercive confinement serves a purpose, viz., that it brings him closer to the point of either victory or else exhaustion of his writs and his submission to the demands of the debtor examination. On March 24, 2010, Mr. Fine filed for an immediate Farr hearing on his behalf. William T. Farr was an investigative reporter who refused, on principle, to reveal sources as the court demanded. Farr won his release on the grounds that he would never reveal his sources no matter how long he was held in contempt; hence his imprisonment became punitive rather than prospectively coercive. Thus, Fine's case is crucially different from the Farr case where Farr maintained from the outset that he would continue to refuse to supply the requested information no matter how long he was held. Fine has admitted that he will comply when all his other legal remedies are at an end. Thus, as the Superior Court respondents opined: