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Attorney jailed on contempt charges freed after 1 1/2 years behind bars

September 17, 2010 | 10:39 pm

A 70-year-old lawyer who was sentenced to jail “indefinitely” on contempt-of-court charges was abruptly released Friday evening after spending a year and a half behind bars.

Richard Fine was released from Los Angeles County Jail in downtown Los Angeles shortly after 9 p.m. but did not wish to speak to a Times reporter, said his daughter, Victoria.

Fine, an antitrust and taxpayer advocate attorney, was thrown in jail last year by  Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe for failing to answer questions about his finances and for practicing law without a license.

The contempt charges stemmed from a case Fine filed on behalf of Marina del Rey homeowners who sued local developers. Fine had been ordered to pay sanctions and attorneys’ fees in the case.

Fine contends he was being targeted by Yaffe because of his challenges to county-funded benefits that judges receive on top of their state pay.

Rather than comply with Yaffe’s orders and be released from jail, Fine vowed to take his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In May, however, the court declined to take up his petition, meaning he could have remained in jail indefinitely as Yaffe had ordered. The judge could not be reached for comment late Friday.

While in solitary confinement, Fine filed habeas corpus petitions for his release with 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.

His imprisonment was “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 telephone interview with The Times in May, 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.

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

-- Scott Glover