February 14, 1998 in Nation/World

County May Lose Attorney Helping To Prosecute Sniper Lawyer May Face Suspension For Alleged Unethical Conduct

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:ethics

Stephen Yagman, the brash California lawyer appointed to help prosecute FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, may be suspended from practicing law for a year.

Yagman, 53, faces sanctions by the California State Bar for alleged unethical conduct, including overcharging clients, according to the California State Bar Journal, a publication for attorneys.

If suspended, it could affect whether Yagman can practice in Idaho. He was appointed as a special prosecutor by Boundary County officials last November. He was hired for $1 to assist in the Ruby Ridge case and bring Horiuchi to trial for shooting to death Vicki Weaver, wife of white separatist Randy Weaver.

Yagman is not licensed to practice in Idaho, but courts typically grant attorneys permission to assist in cases outside their own states. If Yagman is disciplined, his permission to work in Idaho likely will be revoked, said Bonner County Prosecutor Phil Robinson.

“You have to be a member in good standing to be admitted to practice in another state. Every state I know of pulls that status if you are disciplined and no longer in good standing in your home state,” Robinson said.

Yagman specializes in civil rights and police brutality cases. A review panel from the California State Bar Court recommended Yagman be suspended from practicing for a year, make restitution to five clients and be placed on probation for three years.

The California Supreme Court must approve the suspension and probation before it takes affect. Yagman’s troubles were reported in the February issue of the California State Bar Journal.

Yagman’s problems stem from a federal lawsuit he filed against Los Angeles police. Four of five robbery suspects were shot and killed at a McDonald’s restaurant.

Yagman represented one suspect and survivors of the four others. He won the case, getting $44,000 for each victim. After deducting a contingency fee, each client was left with only $810, according the California Bar Journal.

Yagman also went back to court and sought attorney fees without disclosing his fee agreement with his clients. A judge awarded Yagman another $378,175 in attorney fees.

“Yagman’s conduct, the review panel found, amounted to taking an unconscionable fee,” the Bar Journal said of Yagman’s disciplinary proceedings.

Yagman, who can appeal the recommended sanctions to the Supreme Court, could not be reached for comment.

The controversial attorney, sometimes called the “Bad Boy of the Federal Courthouse” has been disciplined before. In 1989 he was suspended for six months and given two years’ probation for seeking an “unconscionable fee.” In 1994 he also faced a two-year suspension for criticizing a district judge and accusing him of anti-Semitism.

Boundary County Prosecutor Denise Woodbury filed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Horiuchi, the FBI sharpshooter, last August. Yagman offered his services to the county for $1 after hearing about the part-time prosecutor being pitted against high-paid government attorneys.

Woodbury was unavailable for comment Friday.

During his first performance in a Boundary County courtroom last fall, Yagman was chastised by the judge for making snide remarks. One comment insinuated Horiuchi had something to hide because he would not testify at the hearing.

Horiuchi’s lawyers have asked the case be moved out of Idaho, partly because of inflammatory statements made to the media by Yagman.

“I personally believe that this case will be a trial of the FBI, of its director - Louis Freeh - and of Attorney General Janet Reno,” Yagman said, a day after being appointed a special prosecutor.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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