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Former Contra Costa County Supervisor Gayle Bishop’s license to practice law has been suspended by the California Supreme Court for five years and five months, following her 1997 felony convictions for perjury and misusing public funds. While the fate of Bishop’s bar card became final in July, the ex-supervisor’s lawyers are still fighting the politician’s convictions in federal court — in November 2001 San Francisco lawyer Dennis Riordan petitioned U.S. District Court Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong for a writ of habeas corpus, which is pending. “The law is tougher now,” said Lawrence Dal Cerro of the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel, noting that Bishop could have been more easily disbarred if she had committed the crimes a year later. Before, lawyers could be summarily disbarred only if they engaged in theft or acted with “intent to defraud” in the course of practicing law, Dal Cerro said. In 1997, that was broadened to include any felony conviction that involved “moral turpitude,” he said. Since her conviction Bishop has been on interim suspension, which made her ineligible to practice law. The court’s action became final only recently because the court had to wait until Bishop’s criminal appeals had been exhausted. It also takes time for the Supreme Court to act on the State Bar Court’s recommendation, Dal Cerro said. Bishop’s attorney for the State Bar proceedings, Jerome Fishkin, could not be reached for comment Thursday. The court’s action is the latest twist in the Bishop case, which springs from a 1996 investigation by the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office. Bishop was accused of using county employees to help run her civil law practice and her election campaign, and was charged with several felony counts of perjury and misuse of public funds. Colusa County Superior Court Judge John Tiernan, who presided over the case after the Contra Costa bench recused itself, sentenced Bishop to three years in state prison. Later, the First District Court of Appeal tossed two of the perjury convictions, and Tiernan re-sentenced Bishop to three years of probation. At the time, Contra Costa District Attorney Gary Yancey was criticized for pursuing the case because he was a friend of Bishop’s political rival, Walnut Creek Councilwoman Susan McNulty Rainey. Susan Rainey — who was ultimately defeated by Bishop for the supervisor’s seat — is the wife of Richard Rainey, former Contra Costa sheriff and ex-state senator. The attorney general’s office handled the case, but a county deputy DA was appointed by the AG to prosecute the case. Now Bishop’s appellate attorneys are hoping to sway a federal judge to overturn the former supervisor’s convictions. Judge Armstrong agreed to hear the matter and issued an order to show cause in March. Bishop v. Contra Costa Superior Court, 01-4255, alleges that the politician’s Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated during the course of the criminal trial. Among other things, Riordan argues in court papers that Bishop’s trial lawyers — Barry Blackie Burak and now-retired Robert Berg of the firm Burak & Berg — had represented one of the witnesses in an earlier case. Riordan also argues that the trial lawyers never moved to disqualify the prosecutor in the case for conflict of interest. In the Court of Appeal’s 2000 opinion, the justices agreed that that should have been done, but Bishop’s lawyers raised the issue too late. “We were surprised that we lost at the court of appeal,” said Dylan Schaffer, an attorney who works at Riordan’s firm. The firm had hoped that the First District would have reversed more of the case, he said. Bishop’s habeas petition “is one of the stronger ones that we have dealt with,” Schaffer said. “We will continue to defend the judgment, reached at the lower court level,” said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for the AG’s office. “We will make our case to the court and see that justice is done.”

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