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Nikolai Tehin Jr. was a successful plaintiffs attorney who stole from clients to support a lavish lifestyle, Assistant U.S. Attorney Miles Ehrlich argued during opening statements in Tehin’s federal trial Tuesday. “You’re going to hear the same pattern again and again,” Ehrlich told the jury. “He settles cases and then spends the money.” Tehin, who turned in his bar card two years ago, faces six counts of mail fraud and nine counts of money laundering for financial transactions that took place from 2001 to 2003. The government alleges he stole and misused more than $2 million that was supposed to go to downtrodden clients to pay his own bills, then used funds from other settlements to keep clients off his back. In his 35-minute opening statement, Ehrlich told jurors the case was straightforward and asked them to keep an open mind and use common sense. Much of the evidence will revolve around management of client trust accounts at Tehin + Partners, the now-defunct firm Tehin ran with his wife, Pamela Stevens, in the Bank of America Building in San Francisco. “You’ll see it for yourselves in black and white,” Ehrlich said. “So you can see � how calculated this defendant was in carrying out this fraud. You’ll hear from the people he deceived.” But Tehin’s attorney, Harold Rosenthal of San Francisco’s Rosenthal & Gibbons, countered that the case was not as straightforward as the government would have jurors believe. “He did many things of which a lawyer should be ashamed,” Rosenthal told the jury. “This is a case about a fine lawyer with no financial sense.” In proving the federal crimes, prosecutors plan to emphasize the State Bar and ethics rules Tehin allegedly violated. But Rosenthal made a point to remind the jury that the trial in Walker’s courtroom is not a Bar proceeding. Ehrlich told jurors they will meet some of the witnesses Tehin allegedly stole from — including the father of two children born with cystic fibrosis. Rosenthal tried to shift attention back to his client, calling him a “wonderful” lawyer at the “top of his profession” who fought for the little guy. Rosenthal said Tehin had no experience managing finances and put his trust in an employee named Melissa De La Rosa, who will be one of the government’s chief witnesses. Rosenthal blamed De La Rosa for the transactions, while Ehrlich said she was just following Tehin’s orders. Besides the children afflicted with cystic fibrosis, Tehin’s alleged victims include 100 apartment tenants in a case he worked on with Legal Aid of the North Bay. Prosecutors say he spent stolen money to pay his office rent, fix up his Pacific Heights home and pay for a 70-foot yacht. On Monday, Stevens, Tehin’s wife and former law partner, appeared in State Bar Court in San Francisco for a pretrial conference in the Bar’s bid to have her disbarred. State Bar prosecutors accuse Stevens, who was admitted to the Bar in 1978, of misappropriating more than $3.7 million from clients while working with her husband. She was placed on inactive status in August 2002. Prosecutors wouldn’t talk about the case Monday, but they informed Judge JoAnn Remke that they were making progress with Stevens on resolving some of the issues and reaching a stipulation on the facts. Prior to the hearing, State Bar Deputy Trial Counsel Kevin Taylor told the judge he and fellow prosecutor Gordon Grenier had “a meaningful discussion” and a “heart-to-heart talk” with Stevens. Remke, however, said she was still concerned about some “outstanding issues,” such as the State Bar’s list of 78 proposed witnesses. She also advised Stevens that she potentially faced sanctions for failing to respond to a July motion to compel discovery. Stevens said she wasn’t aware of the motion until only two weeks ago. Depending on the outcome, the trial against Stevens could begin sometime in September. The federal case is U.S. v. Tehin, 03-0236. The trial, before Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, is scheduled to last three weeks. Associate editor Mike McKee contributed to this story.

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