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Appeals Court Revives Lawyer's Money Laundering Conviction
2013-08-13 05:49:01 PM
SAN FRANCISCO — Jamie Harmon is back on the hot seat.
The former Santa Clara County defense attorney's money laundering conviction has been reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled that former U.S. District Judge James Ware should not have granted Harmon a new trial.
Harmon was convicted in 2010 after depositing checks worth $127,500 into her client trust account. Her client, Christian Pantages, made the money from selling stolen computer equipment. Harmon, who says Pantages told her the money was legitimate, kept about $25,000 for her client's bail and her retainer, then paid the rest back to Pantages' wife.
Following Harmon's conviction, Ware ordered a new trial, saying he'd failed to properly instruct the jury on the "specified unlawful activity" that rendered the funds dirty. A Ninth Circuit panel of Judges Sidney Thomas, N. Randy Smith and Jerome Farris sounded skeptical last February.
On Monday the panel ruled that Ware should have considered whether the error he identified was harmless. "Instead, the district court simply assumed that its error deprived Harmon of a fair trial," the court stated in a per curiam opinion. "This alone was legal error, and relying upon that legal error in deciding to grant Harmon a new trial was an abuse of discretion."
The error was in fact harmless, the court concluded. "Here, there was overwhelming evidence showing that a theft of goods from an interstate shipment took place and that the laundered funds were the proceeds of that theft," the court wrote.
The case now returns to U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, who has taken over the matter for the retired Ware.
Harmon's appellate attorney, Edward Swanson of Swanson & McNamara, said he was disappointed in the decision. "But we're going to continue to contest the verdict both in the trial and the appellate courts," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Voigts argued the appeal for the government.
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