An East Bay lawyer who is battling disbarment told a State Bar Court judge in San Francisco Wednesday that “I made a terrible mistake” when she smuggled documents out of the jail cell of a triple-murder defendant in 2010. “I don’t know why I did it. That was stupid,” said attorney Lorna Brown. Brown, 67, of Berkeley, formerly represented Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV, who was convicted in 2011 of three counts of murder for ordering the executions of investigative journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other men in Oakland in 2007. The State Bar is seeking to remove her law license because she took documents out of Bey’s cell at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on March 8, 2010, and lied to investigators four days later.
The papers included transcripts of interviews with three key prosecution witnesses, a defense witness list and a sealed greeting card addressed to Bey’s common-law wife, Tiffany Wade. After Oakland police seized it on March 11, 2010, the greeting card turned out to contain a note from Bey asking Wade to destroy evidence. Bar attorneys also allege the witness transcripts contained handwritten notes by Bey that appeared to be instructions to a Bey lieutenant, Gary Popoff, to eliminate or intimidate the witnesses. Brown has admitted to two State Bar charges that she took documents out of the cell without permission of the jail warden and that she lied to Alameda County District Attorney’s investigators in an interview on March 12, 2010. But she has denied knowing about the content of the card to Wade or about the handwritten notes on the witness transcripts.
Because Brown has admitted to the two charges, the purpose of the disciplinary trial before State Bar Hearing Judge Patrice McElroy is to determine the level of punishment for the misconduct. Bar prosecutors are seeking disbarment on the ground that Brown’s actions were unethical, violated prison protocol and a state law, and put the witnesses at risk. Brown’s attorneys have asked for a six-month to two-year license suspension. Brown, who previously testified Tuesday under questioning by State Bar attorney Robin Brune, returned to the stand Wednesday for questioning by her own lawyer, Vicki Young. She testified she thought the card to Wade contained a note in which Bey was seeking reconciliation with Wade at a time when “things were very rocky and they were fighting a lot.” “I thought it might have intimate details,” she said of the sealed card.
“I thought I would do him a favor,” she said. Brown is scheduled to complete her testimony this morning and the trial is expected to end at midday. McElroy will issue a written recommendation at a later date to the California Supreme Court, which has the final say in cases in which the State Bar is seeking disbarment or suspensions. Young also presented five character witnesses Wednesday, including four lawyers and one family friend, all of whom testified they consider Brown honest and ethical. Veteran Oakland criminal defense attorney James Giller, a former president of the Alameda County Bar Association, told the judge, “She has an excellent reputation in this county for honesty and integrity and being an excellent lawyer. “She may have made a mistake but we all do that. We all screw up,” said Giller. Criminal defense attorney Barbara Thomas of Alameda, who described Brown as “very honest and very ethical,” was asked how serious she considered Brown’s misconduct to be. “Compared to the murderers and child molesters I represent?” Thomas asked. “Not very,” she said.
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