Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jackson's Doctor Gets Four Years, Will Serve Two With Good Behavior Credits. Judge Blasts Dr. Murray at Sentencing And Rejects Probation Request.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor sentenced Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's personal physician, to the maximum possible in this case: four years in a county jail for Dr. Murray's role in Jackson's 2009 death. Judge Pastor rejected the defense's request for probation.
The sentencing follows a jury verdict earlier this month that found Dr. Murray guilty of involuntary manslaughter after treating Mr. Jackson's insomnia with a powerful surgical sedative. The jury verdict indicated that Dr. Murray used the drug, propofol, in violation of accepted medical practice.
Judge Pastor's comments at sentencing were harsh and explained why he gave the maximum time allowed. For example, he called Dr. Murray  "a disgrace to the medical profession," and said that his $150,000-a-month employment with the singer constituted "money-for-medicine madness."
With good time credit, a 4 year sentence means that Dr. Murray will only serve 2 years if he has good behavior while he serves his sentence. Judge Pastor said he was barred from sending Dr. Murray, now 58 years old, to state prison, under a recent California law designed to reduce overcrowding by keeping "non-serious" felons in county jails. In fact, county jail in Los Angeles is often a worse place to serve a sentence than state prison so this does not necessarily benefit Dr. Murray.  For example, exercise, meals, visitation and other rules are much stricter in the county jails.
Dr. Murray didn't speak during the 90-minute hearing. His lawyers submitted a 45-page memorandum, along with 35 character-reference letters, as part of a request for probation instead of incarceration. Dr. Murray's lead lawyer, Ed Chernoff, urged Judge Pastor to consider "the entirety of a man's book of life, as opposed to one chapter." He added: "In 56 years, he never committed a crime, never ran afoul of the law."
Separately, a lawyer representing Mr. Jackson's family read a statement that requested, in part, "a sentence that reminds physicians that they cannot sell their services to the highest bidder."
The prosecutors have asked for an absurd amount of restitution that is not presently supported by evidence submitted to the Court.  Judge Pastor deferred until January 23 a request by prosecutors for more than $100 million restitution, saying that he needed more documentation to support such a large request.
The prosecution submitted a letter from a lawyer representing the Jackson estate, listing funeral expenses of more than $1.8 million. The same email estimated that Mr. Jackson personally would have earned $100 million from the concert series for which he was preparing at the time of his death. Neither estimate was supported by a balance sheet or other detailed breakdown."   It's not often courts are requested to make restitution of $101,821,871.65 based on a three-line email," Judge Pastor said.
Dr. Murray's television interview hurt him at sentencing. In handing down the sentence, Judge Pastor referred to remarks included in a television documentary about Dr. Murray that aired on MSNBC days after his conviction. At one point in the program, the doctor tells an interviewer he feels no guilt because he did nothing wrong, going on to blame Mr. Jackson himself for his own death.
"Yipes!" Judge Pastor said in reference to the doctor's televised remark. "Talk about blaming the victim. There's not only no remorse, there's umbrage and outrage, on the part of Dr. Murray, against the decedent."


Attorney Comments: It is not an easy task to come before the court and ask for probation after a high profile trial. The defense lawyers had their work cut out for them and they were not assisted by their client going on national television and not showing any remorse for his conduct and claiming innocence. Even if Dr. Murray was right, television before sentencing is not the place for it. Controlling an intelligent physician who is in the unusual place of being a criminal defendant is a high-wire balancing act. 


On the one hand, it is Dr. Murray's case and life and he may care more about going on television and proclaiming his innocence than how it will affect the sentencing. A lawyer can only control their client to a certain extent and then it is the client's decision and life. Some attorneys would quit if their client indicated they were going on television. Others would allow the client to make the decision even if it were a mistake. The problem is that after the mistake, some lawyers believe they will be blamed for not controlling their client.  


Posted by Tracy Green, Esq. Please email Ms. Green at tgreen@greenassoc.com or call her at 213-233-2260 to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation.  Ms. Green's office at Green and Associates is located at 801 South Figueroa Street #1200, Los Angeles, CA 90017.
Any questions or comments  should be directed to Tracy Green, a very experienced California health care attorney, physician attorney, and white collar crime attorney at tgreen@greenassoc.com.

The firm focuses its practice on the representation of licensed professionals, individuals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings. They have a specialty in representing licensed health care providers in California and throughout the country. Their website is: http://www.greenassoc.com/

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ex-Beverly Hills School Employee Convicted By Jury In Felony Conflict Of Interest Case: What Can We Learn From This Case?

A recent conflict of interest criminal case serves as a reminder to employees and consultants (public and private) of the need to seek legal advice before entering into contracts and taking actions that could benefit oneself privately.  In the public sector, there could be conflict of interest charges and in the private sector it could lead to embezzlement charges. Compliance is the key and seeking legal advice upfront is important. 


On November 21, 2011, Karen Anne Christiansen, a former Beverly Hills Unified School District official was convicted by a jury of four counts of felony conflict of interest and taking more than $1.3 million through a building management contract she allegedly steered to herself. The criminal case was prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney, Public Integrity Division. A very experienced prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman, was assigned to the case.


The jury took two days to reach a guilty verdict. Once the verdict was returned, the trial judge, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus, immediately ordered Christiansen remanded into custody and increased her bail to $400,000.


What happened here? The facts are interesting in that some of the actions Ms. Christiansen and her lawyers took might have forced the government's hand in filing charges against her. Or perhaps her lawyers knew a criminal case was coming and attempted to use civil litigation as a defense. Either way, it was a gamble.


In 2004, Ms. Christiansen was hired by the Beverly Hills School District at a salary of $113,000 per year to be the project manager for the $334 million Measure E Bond.  The allegation was that the secretly negotiated a deal to be an independent contractor through her company Strategic Concepts while performing her employee duties for the school district. Strategic Concepts received the contract and was paid $5.2 million for consulting services between 2006 and 2009. The Beverly Hills School District terminated Strategic Concepts in 2009. 


This case began with civil litigation commenced by Strategic Concepts suing the District for $16 million in damages. The District countersued for $4 million in damages. After the District spent over $1 million on the civil case, the District Attorney's Office became interested, investigated and ultimately filed criminal charges and stayed the civil lawsuit. The conviction in the criminal case will probably be a ground for the District to file a motion for summary judgment. Query as to whether Ms. Christiansen's attorney had fully evaluated her criminal exposure prior to filing a lawsuit and negotiated a comprehensive settlement with the District or decided not to file a civil lawsuit, would the result in this case have been different? 



Sentencing for Ms. Christiansen is scheduled for January 5, 2012 in Department 102 of the Los Angeles County Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles, and she faces a maximum state prison term of eight years. Given that the jury reached a finding that there was an "excessive taking" of $1.3 million, probation may not be an option for Judge Marcus and may be grounds for the higher end of the sentencing range. 


There is a co-defendant in the case as well, Jeffrey Hubbard, 54, the former superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District. He faces three counts of misappropriation of public funds in connection with the case and his case goes to trial next.

Mr. Hubbard – now superintendent of the Newport Mesa Unified School District – was charged in December 2010 with two counts of misappropriation of public funds for allegedly giving Ms. Christiansen more than $20,000 in unauthorized gifts and giving her increases in her car allowance that were unauthorized by the  school board. On Oct. 11, Hubbard was arraigned on a Grand Jury indictment charging him with a new count of misappropriation of public funds. The new charge stems from his alleged direction of a subordinate to give a raise to a female employee without school board authorization. His next court date is December 12 for a pretrial hearing.


We have represented both both private and public employees in criminal investigations or civil lawsuits for "self-dealing" or conflict of interest. Business practices are under greater scrutiny and the laws for public employees are very detailed and complicated. For example, the California Attorney General's Office published a lengthy 136-page Guide to financial conflicts of interest by local and state executive and legislative officials. This is just one small part of conflict of interest laws - and compliance with conflict of interest rules is the best way of avoiding a civil lawsuit, fines or criminal prosecution. 


This case is unusual in that it is a high profile school district and it seems doubtful that Ms. Christiansen did not fully comprehend her criminal exposure prior to filing the civil lawsuit. What seemed like a contract case turned into a criminal case. We have handled many "civil" lawsuits that have criminal implications and therefore become "sensitive" cases that cannot be handled like traditional civil cases. Full evaluation of cases before filing is key to a successful global result.


Posted by Tracy Green, Esq. Please email Ms. Green at tgreen@greenassoc.com or call her at 213-233-2260 to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation.  Ms. Green's office at Green and Associates is located at 801 South Figueroa Street #1200, Los Angeles, CA 90017.


Any questions or comments  should be directed to Tracy Green, a very experienced California conflict of interest attorney, California self-dealing attorney, California white collar attorney, and California compliance attorney at tgreen@greenassoc.com.



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