Maureen Kallins hasn’t practiced law in years, but the once-controversial criminal defense lawyer has surfaced again in a highly critical court ruling.
San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal held Friday that the former Bay Area attorney had committed an ethical violation “serious enough” to deny her a $200,000 fee paid upfront by former criminal client Peter Chong.
Chong, an alleged leader of San Francisco and Oakland Chinatown gangs, was convicted in federal court in 2002 of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder and several other charges. Before trial, though, he fired Kallins and said she should return his fee because she had previously won a mistrial for another man — Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow — by blaming Chong for Chow’s crimes.
Chong accused Kallins of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.
“We recognize that the district court never ruled that Kallins was disqualified from representing Chong,” Justice Maria Rivera wrote in the ruling (.pdf). “However, Kallins has not pointed us to any authority for the proposition that an attorney loses the right to collect fees generated in violation of the ethical rules only if a court disqualifies her.”
Justices Ignazio Ruvolo and Patricia Sepulveda concurred.
Kallins, who has been suspended or ordered inactive by the State Bar several times over the years, had been sued by Chong for allegedly concealing a conflict of interest when he hired her and agreed to pay a flat fee of $200,000.
A San Francisco trial judge ruled in favor of Kallins, holding that Chong was aware of the conflict of interest before he signed the retainer and that an “experienced federal judge” had found no problems.
The First District disagreed, saying that Kallins’ failure to obtain a written waiver for a potential conflict was more than a minor technical violation because Chong faced a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison with the possibility of life.
“The potential conflict went to the heart of Kallins’ loyalty to her client, and the stakes for Chong were exceedingly high,” Rivera wrote. “In the circumstances, Kallins’ failure to inform Chong in writing of the potential conflict and to obtain his written waiver was not excusable.”
The State Bar lists Kallins’ last-known residence as Vancouver, Wash. Her last discipline by the Bar came in October, when she was suspended for 30 days in an unrelated matter.
A year earlier, she had been suspended for two years for committing 14 acts of misconduct in nine matters. Four judges testified against her.
Friday’s ruling is Chong v. Kallins, A111844.
— Mike McKee