For the past week, every political junkie in California has been riveted to the arrest and federal indictment of Democratic State Senator Leland Yee, charged with public corruption and gun trafficking.
The federal court in San Francisco was a mob scene of reporters March 26, all trying to take in the 137-page indictment and get a chance to see Yee’s first court appearance, along with alleged Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and 20 defendants.
At the center of the maelstrom are three UC Hastings alumni, each playing pivotal roles in the case. The prosecution team includes AUSA Susan Badger ’86. Lee’s first defense attorney was Paul DeMeester ’90, before longtime attorney Jim Lassart substituted in for him April 2. Lassart has been an instructor at UC Hastings Trial and Advocacy Clinic. And it’s all going down in the courtroom of federal Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins ’95.
Badger ’86 is one of three Assistant U.S. Attorneys leading the case, along with William Frentzen and S. Waqar Hasib '04. Badger was recently named a California Lawyer of the Year by California Lawyer magazine for her work prosecuting corrupt law enforcement officers, including two Richmond police officers, former Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff Stephen Tanabe, and the now-disbanded Central Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team.
At Yee’s side that day and later handling questions on the courthouse steps was DeMeester ’90. Reporters initially chased DeMeester down the hall for comment. After meeting with Yee, DeMeester began raising questions about the timing and course of the three-year-old FBI investigation, musing why it took three years to put the case together. DeMeester in particular challenged why the FBI shifted its focus from a cash-for-influence case to an investigation of alleged connections to international arms dealers.
"There's a question of whether the government felt it didn't have enough evidence on the campaign investigation, so it starts pushing on the arms trafficking," DeMeester told the Associated Press. As of April 1, Yee had yet to enter a plea to the charges.
And it all went down in the courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins ’95. Cousins was assigned early issues such as setting bond for Lee, Chow and others. The parties return to Cousins’ courtroom April 8 for additional hearings, including requiring Lee to post real property as part of his $500,000 bond. Externs from UC Hastings working in Cousins’ court had front-row seats for what many attorneys would be the case of a lifetime.
“UC Hastings produces great lawyers. On any side of any legal issue you are going to find a talented UC Hastings graduate,” said Professor Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor who teaches Criminal Law and Constitutional Law. “UC Hastings has a deep bench of talented lawyers and judges in the city.”
Little, a former federal prosecutor who teaches Criminal Law and Constitutional Law, has been providing commentary and memorable sound bites for media outlets around the state. He told Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News, “It looks to me like he’s [Yee] got plenty to worry about.”
Little also appeared with Phil Matier on KTVU’s Sunday morning news talk show, talking about the strength of the wiretap evidence against Lee. He also taped comments for KCBS radio and KRON 4 television.
“This is the kind of case you can really get excited about and sink your teeth into. It is high profile, with a lot of legal issues, and a ton of strategy with this many defendants and a lengthy investigation. In that sense, it is a lawyer’s dream on all side,” Little said.
“The UC Hastings reunion in this case is not finished,” Little predicted. “The attendance list is not complete. Most defendants have not announced counsel yet. Stay tuned.”