Criminal-Defense Attorney May Be Criminal Defense Attorney

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You barbarians out there who aren't hyphenating compound adjectives should take note: sometimes it makes a difference.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week on what it called an "unusual twist" in the trial of a man charged with fraud: his defense attorney was arrested for fraud. The Chronicle says that the unusual twist brought the trial to "an abrupt halt," but it sounds like the trial itself was not underway yet. According to the report, prosecutors were trying to contact the attorney and looked him up on the state bar's website. They did find his contact info, but also learned that his law license is not currently active. Since he was currently actively practicing law, this was a problem.

The bigger problem was that they noticed there was also a warrant out for his arrest.

A judge had issued a bench warrant on May 11 for the arrest of Deron Kartoon (who at the moment is guilty only of not changing his last name), after he failed to appear in court to answer charges of commercial burglary, attempted grand theft, possession of a meth pipe, and fraudulent use of a credit card. Is an attorney facing charges for fraudulent use of a credit card the ideal selection to represent you on charges for fraudulent use of a credit card? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is no.

Kartoon was probably appointed in this case (the report says his license has been active until recently, and the warrant wasn't issued until May 11). But maybe they knew each other. That's speculation on my part, but the report does say that according to police, Kartoon is not just an occasional fraudster but the "hub" of a fraudulent-credit-card conspiracy. "I believe that [he] is actively involved in identity theft and the manufacture of fraudulent credit cards," a deputy wrote when applying for a search warrant. But then they say lots of things when applying for search warrants. Some are even true.

The state bar has suspended Kartoon several times in the past, although it looks like that was for failing to pay his dues. That might have been the reason for his inactive status this time, too, but regardless it was illegal for him to appear on a client's behalf without a valid license. He told the Chronicle, though, that he had placed himself on inactive status "voluntarily" and was not actually representing his client when he appeared last week, but rather was appearing only as a "witness" to make sure his client got another attorney. (It's not clear whether he mentioned this to the court at the time.)

That argument might itself be a good reason to get another attorney, if he needed another reason.