The former lawyer for a man convicted in the murder of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey in 2007, facing possible disbarment for smuggling her client’s "hit list" of witnesses out of jail, dodged a bullet a second time.
State Bar Court Judge Pat McElroy, citing defense lawyer Lorna Brown’s remorsefulness and clean record of 20 years, recommended that the California Supreme Court suspend her license for four years. The court rejected the original recommendation in 2011 of a two-year suspension as being too lenient.
Brown wanted a six-month suspension and the State Bar wanted her disbarred. Although Judge McElroy rejected the harsher punishment, the Chauncey Bailey Project, a group of investigative journalists, quoted from the judge’s 16-page report that Brown “willfully ignored her duties as an attorney, as well as the health and safety of witnesses who planned to testify.” The judge said one witness ended up in a protection program and others were fearful.
Brown admitted she carried the documents out of Alameda County Jail in 2010 for her client, Yusuf Bey IV, without showing them to anyone. But Brown maintained she didn’t know that among them was a list of witnesses. She gave the material to a Bey IV family member and police later found it with suggestive instructions in the possession of a Bey IV associate, according to Project reporter Thomas Peele.
Bey IV was not charged in the incident. Brown, when confronted by the authorities, said she knew the associate had a list of people, but thought he was helping her find witnesses to interview, Peele wrote.
The Alameda County district attorney was apparently skeptical and offered Brown a deal: retire or face criminal prosecution. She retired—for a year. The statute of limitations on charging her with a crime ran out and she was back in business. The DA complained to the State Bar, which tried and failed to get her disbarred, and is trying again.
Bailey was gunned down in the street in August 2007. He had been researching a story about Your Black Muslim Bakery, an Oakland institution that was described by the Project as built “on ideals of black empowerment, respect and self-reliance. In recent years, the group has been tied to murders, racism, sexual assaults on young girls, and vandalism.”
A 19-year-old employee of the bakery originally confessed to killing Bailey, then retracted his confession and implicated his boss. Bey IV was convicted in June 2011 of three murders, Bailey, Odell Roberson and Michael Wills, and sentenced to life without parole. He is appealing.