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SAN JOSE — A defense attorney is facing a contempt of court charge for allegedly asking a witness prohibited questions during a high-profile telemarketing fraud trial. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Paul Bernal held a hearing late Tuesday to vet the charges against Peter Furst, of San Francisco’s Furst & Pendergast. He set a July 9 hearing to decide whether the lawyer will be held in contempt. Bernal accused Furst of asking questions the judge barred and trying to bring up a witness’s past criminal history during the jury trial of Furst’s client, former Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Lt. Armand Tiano, and five co-defendants. The six are facing charges of setting up a fraudulent charity and spending the proceeds for their own benefit. Bernal said Tuesday that Furst was repeatedly warned about the questions but continued to press the witness. “He understood that I was serious and that he better not ask the question,” Bernal explained in court. A lawyer for Furst said the contempt charges are the result of a misunderstanding. “There is a disagreement regarding the court’s prior rulings and the questions that [Furst] asked,” Edward Sousa, Furst’s San-Jose-based attorney, said Wednesday. “He and Judge Bernal disagreed with certain rulings that were made and questions Peter asked, and the situation has been exacerbated because it’s a long and tumultuous trial.” “[Furst] doesn’t believe he behaved in a contemptuous manner,” Sousa said. Sousa tried to delay Tuesday’s proceeding, saying he was informed about the charges just hours before arriving in court and had not reviewed the transcript. He also cited the presence of reporters in the courtroom. Sousa suggested postponing contempt proceedings until the end of the trial. “We would not want anything to put the trial in jeopardy,” Sousa said. But Bernal said any news coverage would not affect the outcome because jurors were instructed not to read articles on the case. “Mr. Furst put himself in this position and [put] his client in jeopardy,” Bernal said in rejecting the argument. Sousa also asked Bernal to consider transferring the case to another judge. Bernal said that was unnecessary because he “had no animosity towards Mr. Furst.” He also said it would take too long for another judge to study the case. Bernal, who was visibly upset during Tuesday’s hearing, did provide Sousa more than a month to prepare a brief and review transcripts. Furst was in trial and could not be reached Wednesday. Tiano, a former candidate for sheriff, has been charged, alongside the other defendants, with allegedly operating a law enforcement charity telemarketing scheme. Prosecutors have said the defendants spent most of the $3.6 million they raised on expensive items like cars and artwork. Furst has defended troubled law enforcement officials before, according to news reports. In 1997 he defended a San Francisco police officer charged with stealing from a drug dealer. The officer was acquitted of four felonies. Furst has not been previously disciplined, according to State Bar records.

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