A legal consultant who defied a judge's protective order and leaked confidential LAPD personnel records to a television reporter was found in criminal contempt Friday by a Los Angeles federal judge.
"You can't cherry-pick the American system of justice," said U.S. District Judge William Keller, shaking his finger at self-described whistle-blower Robert Mullally.
Mullally, 57, of Scottsdale, Ariz., faces as much as six months in prison when he is sentenced March 27.
He admitted leaking the records to former KCBS-TV investigative reporter Harvey Levin for a 1997 expose that accused the LAPD of ignoring domestic violence complaints against its own officers.
Levin's two-part series triggered a probe by the LAPD's inspector general, who recommend sweeping changes in how the department handles domestic violence cases.
The report found that members of the force who battered their spouses were rarely prosecuted and often faced only light in-house discipline.
Mullally had obtained the files on 79 officers while working as a consultant to attorney Gregory Yates, a specialist in police abuse cases.
In 1996, a federal magistrate ordered the department to turn over the records to Yates in connection with a damage suit that he brought after a police officer murdered his estranged wife and boyfriend and then shot himself to death. The officer had a history of domestic violence known to his superiors. Yates sued the Police Department.
At the city's request, the magistrate issued a protective order mandating that information from the files could be used only in connection with the suit and could not be disclosed until trial.
Mullally, who had worked as a consultant on other police malpractice cases, set about analyzing how the LAPD handled domestic violence complaints against the 79 officers. He found that, despite overwhelming evidence of abuse, many officers were given nothing more than wrist slaps.
The city settled the suit with Yates the next year for $1.5 million, dashing Mullally's hopes that the problem would be exposed publicly.
That's when he says he decided to take the files to KCBS' Levin.
Mullally acknowledged his role only after the city attorney's office filed a complaint with the state bar, accusing Yates of leaking the documents.
Although Mullally has insisted he acted on his own, Keller repeatedly expressed his doubts Friday. At one point, he referred to Mullally "falling on the sword" for Yates.
Keller gave U.S. Atty. Tom Warren 30 days to report on whether he intends to proceed with a criminal investigation of Yates and Levin.
"As I said when this case began, I am taking this a step at a time. I want a thorough look at these other two," he told Warren. "You're not just going to ignore this and play ostrich on me."
Warren said he would get back to the judge.
Levin could not be reached for comment afterward, but Yates' lawyer, Janet Levine, said, "We're fully confident that any review of the facts of this case will show that Greg did absolutely nothing wrong and that he violated no ethical or legal obligation."
Mullally did not testify during the daylong hearing. One of his attorneys, James Weinstein, a law professor at Arizona State University, argued that Mullally had a 1st Amendment right to publicize the contents of the personnel files because they contained information of criminal wrongdoing that was being covered up by the police.
Co-counsel James LeBow contended that Mullally should not be held in contempt because the protective order expired when the lawsuit was settled.
Keller rejected both arguments. To ignore Mullally's defiance of the protective order would "inflict a serious wound" on the judicial system, Keller said.
Speaking to reporters after his conviction, Mullally said, "I am willing to take my punishment. What's really disturbing to me is that to this day neither the judge nor the U.S. attorney has looked at the underlying evidence and decided, 'Maybe we should be investigating this domestic abuse that's going on inside the LAPD.' "
Mullally received encouragement Friday from the National Center for Women and Policing, a branch of the Feminist Majority.
Penny Harrington, the center's director, called Mullally's prosecution outrageous. She said the reforms recommended by the LAPD inspector general have not been fully implemented, and "batterers continue to suffer few consequences."