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J. Tony Serra, the pony-tailed defense attorney who has made a career out of defying the government, will plead guilty today to failing to pay his income taxes. Serra, who is 70 years old and recently had hip replacement surgery, could go to prison on the misdemeanor charges. But he has asked the court to show him mercy, arguing it would be bad for his clients and the public to lock him up. “It is incumbent upon the court to balance the public’s deprivation of Mr. Serra’s tax payments against the monumental public service he has provided,” according to a sentencing memorandum filed by his attorney, Randolph Daar. Instead of going to prison, Daar suggested Serra be sentenced to home detention and noted he has agreed to pay $100,000, which will be donated by friends and supporters. Prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice’s tax division in Washington, D.C., filed two misdemeanor counts last month alleging Serra failed to pay $18,037 in 1998 and $26,495 in 1999. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Serra was put on probation in 1986 and served four months in jail in 1974 on similar charges. Besides the effect on his clients and the public, Daar also asked for leniency because Serra has taken an informal vow of poverty, eschewing material possessions and doing much of his work pro bono. “It is Tony’s somewhat dysfunctional relationship to money that lies at the root of his offense behavior and not greed or self-aggrandizement,” Daar wrote. Daar also argues that it would be dangerous for Serra to be incarcerated because of his repeated attacks over the years on government informants. “There is concern that Mr. Serra would be targeted by angry snitches,” Daar wrote. As famous for his rumpled suits and love of marijuana as he is for delivering blistering cross-examinations, Serra has railed against what he sees as government overreaching in criminal prosecutions. He’s now defending Greg Anderson, a personal trainer for San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds. Anderson is accused of distributing steroids along with three others at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative in U.S. v. Conte, 04-0044. Neither Serra nor Daar returned phone calls seeking comment. A prosecutor working on the tax case declined to comment. Serra is scheduled to plead today in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero. The case is U.S. v. Serra, 05-00171.

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