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Los Angeles — Civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman has filed a motion to disqualify the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California from a case in which prosecutors have charged him with tax evasion and money laundering. Yagman, a partner at Venice, Calif.-based Yagman & Yagman & Reichmann, faces a 19-count indictment unsealed in June alleging that he failed to pay more than $158,000 in federal income taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and hid assets as part of bankruptcies filed on behalf of himself and his former law firm, Yagman & Yagman. Yagman has pleaded not guilty to the charges. In a motion filed on Aug. 31, Yagman contends that prosecutors in the district have a conflict of interest in the case because they leaked news of their own investigation three years ago to a local newspaper in an attempt to disqualify Yagman from two civil suits filed against them. Since that time, Yagman has filed two suits against two federal agents, U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang and four other federal prosecutors in the Central District of California, including the lead prosecutor in the criminal case against him. He seeks $22 million in damages from each defendant. Reputations ‘on the line’ “He’s suing these people-their reputations are on the line, their pocketbooks are on the line,” said Barry Tarlow, a partner at Los Angeles-based Tarlow & Berk who represents Yagman. “Any person accused of a crime ought not to be prosecuted by somebody who is the defendant in a civil rights case.” Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, declined comment. A hearing on the disqualification motion is set for Sept. 25. Yagman, who is charged with one count of tax evasion, one count of bankruptcy fraud and 17 counts of money laundering, has filed numerous cases against government agencies, particularly against the Los Angeles Police Department. He also filed one of the first federal suits on behalf of a detainee at the prison camp in Guant�namo Bay, Cuba, and obtained a $650,000 settlement from the federal government in a civil rights case against an IRS agent who shot a man on a Los Angeles freeway. In 2003, Yagman filed a complaint against U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real, in the Central District of California, which has prompted proposed national legislation on judicial misconduct and a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals investigation. That same year, the Los Angeles Daily Journal published an article about the federal grand jury investigation of Yagman, who had filed two civil rights cases against the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, according to the recent motion filed by Yagman. The civil division of that office sought to disqualify Yagman from the two cases on the ground that he had a potential conflict of interest since he was under criminal investigation. In 2004, Yagman filed suit against two federal agents and five prosecutors in the office, including Wong Yang and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alka Sagar, lead prosecutor in the criminal case, saying that by seeking to disqualify him, the federal government interfered with his client’s right to choose his own lawyer. Last year, he filed a separate racketeering suit against the same group of defendants. Both cases are pending. “Two years of litigation about this grand jury leak and the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles has obstructed and impaired and delayed and refused to investigate who was responsible for that leak,” Tarlow said. A ‘tricky’ disqualification In seeking to disqualify the Los Angeles U.S. attorney’s office from the criminal case, Tarlow suggested that the government transfer the case to prosecutors who have not been sued by Yagman. “When you have people in that level of supervisory positions, the whole office becomes tainted,” he said. Diane Karpman, principal and legal ethics expert at Los Angeles-based Karpman & Associates, said that it’s “tricky” to bring disqualification motions against an entire prosecutorial office, rather than against individual prosecutors. Still, she said Yagman is “pretty keenly attune to these types of issues of prosecutorial conduct,” citing his past experience as a special prosecutor in a 1997 criminal case against an FBI agent following the “Ruby Ridge” shootings.

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