Criminal defense attorneys are an important part of the American justice system, helping clients from all walks of life navigate the details of their case. When the attorneys themselves are accused, however, juries and judges are often unsympathetic. A former prosecutor and defense lawyer from San Jose, CA is currently learning this firsthand, as she awaits sentencing for her participation in a money laundering scheme.
In 2010, Jamie Harley, 57, was convicted of helping a former client launder more than $120,000 in revenue from stolen computer equipment. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, January 14 by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who also handled the trial. Prosecutors are seeking a prison time of 2 1/2 years, a punishment in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines. Federal probation officials have recommend that Harley serve a 27-month term.
However, Harley’s attorneys have filed court papers arguing that this punishment is unnecessary given their client’s public disgrace, which caused her to lose her law license and practice. The defense team requested that the judge reduce the sentence to an unspecified period inside her home, supplementing this argument by citing Harley’s tough upbringing and letters from her supporters, which include former clients.
Despite these claims, federal prosecutors have stated that Harley’s checkered past and her disappointing conduct as an attorney warrant prison time. Over the course of her three decade-long career, Harley served as a deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County and later became a defense attorney.
Harley’s money laundering conviction dates back to a decade ago, when she was representing Christian Pantages. Prosecutors alleged that Harley funneled $127,550 that Pantages had earned from selling stolen computer equipment into her attorney-client trust account before writing a series of checks back to Pantages and his wife. Pantages, who is also awaiting sentencing, testified that Harley knew the money was connected to the sale of stolen goods. Harley denied knowing that the money was tainted or that the Pantages were stealing the computers, but a jury convicted her of laundering the money.
Over the years, Harley has repeatedly challenged her conviction. She briefly convinced a federal judge to set the charges aside, but a federal appeals court reinstated the convictions in 2013. Meanwhile, Harley has also struggled with the California State Bar: the administration disciplined in 2010 for misconduct against six clients unrelated to her conviction, and again in 2013 for additional violations dated from 2007 to 2012.
In arguing for a prison sentence, federal prosecutors cited these disciplinary actions as evidence against Harley. They focused particular attention on one incident, in which Harley allegedly mislead a Monterey County judge and improperly secured a $45,000 legal fee in an attempted murder case.
Harley’s case has drawn dismay from many legal professionals across the U.S., but especially from criminal defense attorneys.
“As an attorney, it is of the upmost importance to maintain high ethical standards both professionally and privately,” says Robert Bellinger, Principal Attorney, Bellinger Law Office. “Despicable conduct by a member of the legal profession lends itself to distrust and a lack of respect by the very people honest attorneys work hard to represent.”
Harley’s lawyers argue that her checkered past is simply the result of mismanaging her office, emphasizing her strengths and successes as an attorney. Many of Harley’s former clients have spoken in her favor throughout her trial and sentencing process, with some stating that she helped them recover in times of need. Unfortunately, now it seems that Harley is the one in need: court papers show that she cannot even pay the recommended $6,000 fine, and her family is worried that they may lose their house to foreclosure.