Lawyer in CHP beating case refuses to answer judge, is held in contempt

CHP beating case attorney Caree Harper held in contempt after refusing to answer federal judge's questions

The attorney representing a woman beaten by a California Highway Patrol officer on the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles was declared in contempt of court by a federal judge and taken into custody Monday.

Caree Harper drew the sanction because she refused to tell the judge how she first met her client and when she learned her client might be mentally incompetent.

Harper will remain in custody "until such time she is willing to answer the court’s questions,” according to the minutes of her appearance read in court Monday.

Harper represents Marlene Pinnock, 51, who was punched repeatedly by former CHP Officer Daniel Andrew when she was arrested July 1.

Drivers had reported that Pinnock was walking into lanes on the freeway, and Andrew said she resisted arrest. She was detained after the incident on a mental health hold and eventually released without charges. 

Pinnock’s arrest on the shoulder of the 10 Freeway near LaBrea Avenue was recorded on video by a passing motorist and posted on YouTube. The video, which showed Andrew straddling Pinnock punching her in the face, garnered national media attention and galvanized South L.A. civic leaders behind Pinnock.

The CHP settled the case in September for $1.5 million and Andrew resigned.

According to court documents, Judge Otis D. Wright II on Feb. 19 ordered Harper to return to court Monday with a copy of the contingency fee agreement she reached with Pinnock. Wright also ordered her not to incur any more costs or make any more payments with Pinnock’s portion of the settlement without his approval.

The exchange between Wright and Harper on Monday was “tense,” said Laura Vega, a deputy U.S. marshal who assisted in taking Harper into custody.

Calls to Harper's law firm, her client’s family and the opposing attorney who was present Monday had not been returned by midafternoon Tuesday. Judge Wright also did not return a call for comment.

The circumstances around Harper’s detention are extremely rare, Vega said. Harper wasn’t prepared to go to jail, and the deputy marshals didn’t know how long they were going to keep her.

“It was a little strange for us,” he said.

Harper’s co-counsel on the case, civil rights attorney John Burris, said he was not aware of what the judge’s concerns could be, that he wasn’t there when Harper met Pinnock, and that he didn’t know the details of their financial agreement.

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