U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear jailed L.A. lawyer’s contempt of court case


After a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge sent him to jail indefinitely for contempt of court last year, veteran attorney Richard Fine vowed to take his case all the way to the nation’s highest court.

“To fight me is to fight me all the way to the Supreme Court,” he said in a jailhouse interview with The Times last May.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up Fine’s petition, effectively putting an end to the attorney’s dogged legal quest to end his confinement.

The 70-year-old antitrust and taxpayer advocate attorney has been sitting in solitary confinement in Men’s Central Jail for about a year and three months after Judge David Yaffe found him in contempt in March 2009. The judge ordered him to stay in jail until he is ready to follow court orders and answer questions about his finances.

From his cell, Fine has filed habeas corpus petitions for his release in the California Supreme Court, district court, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals alleging that Yaffe was biased against him and should have recused himself from the contempt-of-court case. Fine contends that his legal troubles stem from his challenges to county-funded benefits that judges receive on top of their state pay.

He had been ordered to pay sanctions and attorney’s fees in a case he filed on behalf of Marina del Rey residents against developers in the area.

His imprisonment is “the latest encounter in the 10-year campaign by Fine to restore due process in the California judicial system,” the attorney, who has been representing himself, wrote in his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Fine is the only attorney, of the approximately 208,000 California attorneys, with the courage to challenge the California judiciary,” he wrote.

In a phone interview Monday, Fine said the U.S. Supreme Court had made the wrong decision by allowing him to remain in jail. He said he would be filing another petition for writ of habeas corpus.

“I’m in fighting condition,” he said. “They haven’t broken me down and they won’t break me down.”

But a Superior Court attorney said the top court was the last recourse for Fine.

“Every court has looked at this … it sounds like the end of the line to me, but I don’t know what his strategy is, or what he has in mind,” said Fred Bennett, counsel for the Superior Court. “Nothing has changed. Anytime he wants to be released from custody, he answers the questions and he’s gone.”