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Thomas Riordan’s 14-year ordeal might be winding down. A State Bar Court judge recommended last week that the Sacramento lawyer be publicly reproved for botching a death penalty case he voluntarily took in 1991 as part of a state Supreme Court program aimed at reducing a capital case backlog. “Rather than seeking the court’s permission to withdraw early on,” Judge JoAnne Remke wrote, “he chose procrastination and repeatedly asked for extensions of time, giving the impression that he was still working on the brief and that he had the ability to work on it. “He did not request to withdraw until February 2001,” she continued, “almost nine years after he was appointed as lead counsel.” Riordan, of counsel at Weintraub Genshlea Chediak, declined to comment Wednesday. When he volunteered to represent death row inmate Richard Dean Turner, Riordan, a 1982 Boalt Hall School of Law graduate, had never handled a capital case. He immediately found himself in over his head, even though he had assistance from experts in the field. Riordan had gotten eight extensions from the court before he sought in 2001 to withdraw. Even with the help of Robert Sanger, a seasoned death penalty defender, Riordan wasn’t able to file his briefs by the court’s final deadline of July 31, 2001. He was subsequently held in contempt, fined $1,000, and ordered to repay the court more than $43,000 in fees. Sanger filed a final brief in March 2002, and Turner’s death sentence for two murders in San Bernardino County was affirmed in 2004. During the State Bar Court trial in August, Riordan’s lawyer, San Francisco’s Jerome Fishkin, tried to convince Judge Remke that his client was the victim of a Supreme Court program that never worked. Upon realizing he couldn’t do the job, Fishkin said, Riordan had tried to withdraw, was denied and then held in contempt. Judge Remke wasn’t impressed. “While he may have initially worked on the matter with due diligence,” she wrote, “[Riordan] clearly did not continue the effort, as evidenced by spending only two-and-a-half weeks in 2000 and performing no substantial work in 2001 on the appeal.” She found that Riordan failed to perform competently, refused to obey court orders, and didn’t timely report the contempt order, as required, to the State Bar. Her recommendation for a public reproval split the difference between Riordan’s request to be privately admonished and the State Bar prosecutor’s demand for a 60-day suspension. Riordan was also ordered to attend ethics classes within the next year. “We’re disappointed,” Fishkin said Wednesday, “but Mr. Riordan’s going to accept the decision and not appeal, and everyone will get on with their lives.” State Bar Deputy Trial Counsel Sherrie McLetchie, who prosecuted the discipline case, could not be reached for comment. State Bar prosecutor Russell Weiner said on Wednesday that the Bar is “generally happy” with the court’s recommendations, but will take a closer look next week before deciding whether to seek further review by the state Supreme Court. The Nov. 8 decision in In the Matter of Riordan, 02-0-11078, isn’t final until accepted or rejected by the state Supreme Court.

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