Rare is the case that lands a defense attorney behind bars with his client. But that's what happened to lawyer Stephen Charles Hollingsworth this week. His alleged crime: tardiness.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John J. Cheroske was so frustrated with Hollingsworth arriving at court late -- or sometimes not at all -- that he threw him in jail as a way of ensuring that the attorney would show up for court on time.
The judge allowed Hollingsworth out briefly to defend his client at a hearing on a murder charge, marking what court officials say could be the first time that one jail inmate had been represented by another.
Once the hearing was over, the defendant and his attorney were led back to the cells.
Hollingsworth spent Monday and Tuesday in jail until Cheroske ordered his release Wednesday morning after a court hearing in which the attorney appeared wearing handcuffs and a yellow jailhouse uniform.
The events have sparked outrage among those involved and created a stir in the busy Compton courthouse.
Court officials say the judge's actions marked the sixth time Hollingsworth had been cited for lateness, failure to appear in court and other strange courtroom behavior. The mother of Hollingsworth's client complains that her son wasn't adequately represented at his hearing. And Hollingsworth contends he was illegally jailed and manhandled by other inmates before he was housed on his own.
"It was a false imprisonment," said his lawyer, Manuel Eli Gonzalez. "He may have been late, but I don't believe that deserves a three-day hold in the County Jail with a bunch of known felons."
Gonzalez said Hollingsworth told the judge he was late because of knee and shoulder problems. Gonzalez said Hollingsworth, 41, has explained that the injuries happened in the last two years while he was practicing taekwondo. He was training for the Olympics, Gonzalez said.
But court officials and prosecutors said they have grown tired of Hollingsworth's excuses.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Frisco said Hollingsworth frequently appeared late for court, or not at all on two cases he handled. On one occasion, he said, the defense attorney walked in with a limp, leaning on a cane, and blamed his being late on a knee injury.
"Then someone called him from the audience and he walked up to them, forgetting his crutches and his limp," Frisco said.
Frisco said the judge told Hollingsworth he would notify the State Bar of California about possible disciplinary action.
Hollingsworth, who has been a licensed attorney in California since 1999, is no stranger to discipline. In recent years, records show, the State Bar has accused him of various types of misconduct, including incompetence and misappropriating at least $2,643 from a client.
Kathleen Beitiks, a State Bar spokeswoman, said Hollingsworth is participating in the agency's alternative discipline program, which addresses "the substance abuse and mental health issues" of attorneys facing sanctions. She declined to comment further, citing privacy rules.
Three judges in Compton and Pomona have sanctioned Hollingsworth over his lateness or failure to appear, said Allan Parachini, a court spokesman. "This is a disturbing pattern that attracted the attention of judges, who did something about it," Parachini said.
In the latest case, Hollingsworth was representing Dashaun Finister, who is charged in the fatal shooting of a 37-year-old man during a home-invasion robbery in February. He has pleaded not guilty.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Laura Walton-Everett said Hollingsworth was late for a scheduled preliminary hearing May 7. The hearing was rescheduled to May 28, but Hollingsworth failed to show up.
Court staff called two phone numbers he had given them, but neither worked, she said. Meanwhile, witnesses in the murder case had to be sent home. The judge, she said, was not happy. "He was in disbelief," she said.
Cheroske ordered a warrant for Hollingsworth's arrest. The judge demanded that he appear in court at 8:30 a.m. for Finister's new hearing, which he set for Monday. Hollingsworth showed up at 9:05 a.m., wearing a rumpled suit over a T-shirt, with no tie, Walton-Everett said. Cheroske found him in contempt of court and had him taken into custody, records show.
The judge asked Finister if he wanted a new lawyer, but Finister said he would stick with Hollingsworth. The lawyer was brought out and allowed to continue with the hearing. Cheroske ruled that Finister should stand trial for murder.
Finister's mother said that she was furious with Hollingsworth and that she believed his problems had hurt her son in court.
"He's supposed to be representing my son and then he's in jail? It doesn't look right for my son's case," Eugenia Winston said. "I'm very upset. . . . And my son is upset."
Cheroske declined to comment.
Hollingsworth is scheduled to appear in court July 24 to learn whether he will be sanctioned further.