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Criminal defense attorney Maureen Kallins was on the witness stand Monday defending herself in a suit filed by a former client who accuses her of hiding her work for another alleged member of the same crime circle. The case pits two high-profile individuals in San Francisco criminal justice circles. Kallins was for many years a successful but controversial defense attorney who was once sentenced to two weeks in jail for rude conduct during a rape trial. Peter Chong was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder and several other charges in 2002. Now Chong claims Kallins concealed a conflict of interest when he hired her and agreed to pay a flat fee of $200,000. Having fired Kallins before trial, Chong now says Kallins should return $170,000 because she had previously represented Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow — and had won a mistrial with a defense that included pointing the finger at Chong. Chow was later convicted in another case and agreed to testify against Chong in order to get his sentence reduced, Chong claims in court papers. The San Francisco Superior Court suit has been fraught with delays. In the more than four years since Chong lodged accusations of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract against Kallins and the Marin County firm she shared with her husband, Chong twice asked to put off trial so he could stand trial in federal court. Then Kallins asked for a delay last year when she had to go to jail in the contempt case. The trial finally began in February, but the proceedings were on pause for more than nine months, at least in part to prepare the trial transcript and send it to Chong in an Oregon prison, so he could decide whether to offer rebuttal testimony in a deposition. Chong also is seeking $1.7 million in punitive damages. Kallins currently is not eligible to practice law in California and is facing unrelated disciplinary charges in State Bar Court. When the trial in Chong v. Kallins, 315887, resumed Monday, Kallins testified that after federal prosecutors in Chong’s case complained in court, U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen — who presided over both Chow’s and Chong’s cases — called her in camera to discuss the issue. According to Kallins, Jensen said she could proceed, but the topic may have to be revisited later. Her attorney and husband, Charles Gretsch, argued that Chong fired her for other reasons but grabbed onto the conflict issue as a way to get his money back. Gretsch tried to use letters to another attorney Chong had used in the mid-1990s to establish that he must have been aware before hiring Kallins that she had represented a co-defendant. Kallins testified that Chong had congratulated her via phone from Hong Kong on her win for Chow. She also said Chong had records in Hong Kong from Chow’s trial, including “transcripts of me arguing that he was the bad guy, not Chow.” Kallins also asserted that there’s only a small pool of lawyers willing to take on cases like Chong’s in federal court. “The pool is very incestuous, very small,” she said, noting that she and her husband had represented co-defendants before. Chong’s attorney, Hugo Torbet of San Francisco, countered that what Chong or his previous lawyer may have gleaned about Kallins’ work for Chow doesn’t matter because Kallins should have brought it up and gotten Chong to sign a waiver under rules of conduct. Gretsch told the judge that the federal court transcripts he entered would show that Jensen had not found a conflict and that prosecutors never filed a motion to challenge Kallins on a conflict. The transcripts weren’t read in court, and Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy said he hadn’t seen them yet. “It seems to me that there was a potential conflict of interest. I don’t think there’s any debate about that,” McCarthy said. But he wondered aloud what it would mean for the client’s contract if a judge hadn’t found a conflict before Kallins was fired. “There is no question that [Kallins] would at some point have been disqualified,” Torbet said. In and out of court, Torbet maintained that if Kallins had told his client about a conflict, Chong wouldn’t have hired her. Torbet also said that Chong didn’t understand what the contract meant when it said Kallins’ fee was non-refundable “except if representation is interrupted by judicial intervention.” “He didn’t understand what ‘judicial intervention’ means because he didn’t speak English.” Outside of court, Gretsch countered by calling Chong a sophisticated criminal. “For him to plead naivete is ridiculous.” The judge set a schedule for closing briefs, and Torbet said he expects a ruling by mid-March. The lawyer has tangled with Kallins before, representing the father of another of her ex-clients seeking a refund in a different suit. When Kallins practiced in San Francisco, she developed a reputation as a vigorous and sometimes verbally combative advocate who stepped on more than one judge’s toes. She headed to jail last year after Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner found her in contempt for her conduct during a rape trial. At the moment, Kallins can’t practice law in California due to non-disciplinary reasons. She could shake her “not entitled” status by paying her past-due membership fees, meeting her Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirements and repaying three fee awards resulting from arbitration. In the next few weeks a State Bar judge is expected to rule on disciplinary charges against Kallins, alleging failure to return unearned fees and other client matters, as well as “failing to maintain respect to the court.” Testimony included three superior court judges from Alameda and Sacramento counties who have held Kallins in contempt before, said Robin Haffner, deputy trial counsel with the State Bar. Prosecutors have recommended two years of suspension as well as restitution for the fee matters, while Kallins has suggested private reproval and probation on the fee issues, Haffner said. Gretsch says he and Kallins now live in Washington state, where he practices law. “She did 13 days in jail last year,” said Gretsch, explaining why his wife stopped practicing. “In the couple years before she [stopped], every time she went to court, she had to fight a battle for herself. Life’s too short.”

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