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SACRAMENTO — A state appeal court ordered an ex-lawyer to pay $25,000 in sanctions Wednesday for filing a series of what he conceded were “patently frivolous and contemptuous” habeas corpus petitions. The Third District Court of Appeal’s blistering opinion said the lawyer, Richard Dangler Jr. of Sacramento, had operated a “writ mill” where law students and disbarred lawyers worked without supervision in filing pointless petitions for paying inmates. Dangler resigned from the State Bar in May with charges pending against him. In a for-the-court opinion referencing three separate cases, Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland and Justices George Nicholson and Harry Hull concluded Dangler “took money” from prisoners and their families “under false pretenses” for writs that “even the attorney concedes � are doomed to fail.” The court pointed to the 112-page petition filed for inmate Jackie Don White, which was started by a disbarred lawyer, completed by a law student, and signed and filed by Dangler, who later admitted that he never read it. Dangler and his attorney, Lincoln Law School Dean Anthony Dicce, had asked the court to consider as a mitigating factor Dangler’s ill health, including a neurological diagnosis “most likely related to a head injury” and a debilitating spinal infection that left him bedridden for several months. “I thought they came down very hard,” Dicce said Wednesday. He conceded that the details of Dangler’s law practice were “disturbing,” but said they were “all connected with his mental and physical problems.” The court didn’t buy it. “Mr. Dangler asserts he is ‘too sick to run a business, yet still well enough to supervise it and keep it going,’” wrote the justices. “The validity of his assurances is doubtful.” The sanctions, which the court said would partly cover its costs for reviewing the matters, stemmed from petitions filed for inmates White, Melvin Richard Pena and Renee Harris-Anderson. But the court noted problems with Dangler’s work going back to 1991, where in three cases the Third District found Dangler had “repeatedly misrepresented facts” and “raised contentions that were frivolous.” In a January 1992 opinion, the court found an appeal filed by Dangler to be “frivolous” and “utterly baseless.” That was followed by a request from the court that Dangler be removed from the Central California Appellate Program, which appoints counsel to indigent clients. Dangler, who was admitted to the Bar in 1988, continued to represent inmates, “albeit as retained counsel.” The court also noted that Dangler had faced Bar discipline, including one charge that he had asked a State Bar charge against him “be dismissed in exchange for money.” The three clients in Wednesday’s case were each charged $7,520 for habeas petitions filed in the Third District. Dangler filed Harris-Anderson’s petition after the justices had issued an order to show cause why he shouldn’t face sanctions for including frivolous and untrue allegations in White’s petition and contempt charges for alleging that the Third District had “bent over backwards” to side with prosecutors in White’s case. The court held a show-cause hearing on the three cases over four days earlier this year. The justices denied, without prejudice, the petitions themselves, and ordered Dangler to return the fees paid to him by the three men. However, the court dropped the contempt charge “in the interest of justice,” in light of Dangler’s resignation from the Bar. The justices in In re White, 04 C.D.O.S. 8096, took pains to say they weren’t trying to roll back the right to pursuit of habeas relief, but said that right had to be balanced against the need to protect clients — inmates in particular — from unscrupulous representation. “It looks like the court went out of its way to say, ‘What we’re doing here is protecting the rights of these defendants to file a petition and protecting the public at large from what amounts to kind of a consumer fraud,” said Wesley Van Winkle, a Berkeley appellate lawyer who often represents inmates. “I think that’s all to the good.”

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