Reversal of Misfortune

Convicted OC businessman alleges his attorney was a no-good, two-timing shyster

Courtesy Nancy LordWhat if you found out the attorney you had hired was working for the other side?

That's what happened to Lawrence Hazlewood, a 45-year-old Newport Beach investment manager who has spent the past eight years behind bars at Nellis Federal Prison Camp outside Las Vegas, Nevada.

In June 1999, Hazlewood stood up in the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana and heard a judge convict him of defrauding his clients of $1.8 million.

Now Hazlewood is seeking a new trial.

According to his appeal, on Feb. 2, 1998, he asked U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor to dismiss his court-appointed attorney, James L. Waltz. Taylor agreed, and Hazlewood went on to unsuccessfully represent himself at trial.

What Hazlewood didn't know is that one day after that request, on Feb. 3, 1998, Waltz allegedly provided Taylor with a letter characterizing Hazlewood as "very hostile and abusive," adding that he wanted to protect himself against any future "claim of ineffectiveness or threat of physical reprisal, or for purposes of rebutting some forthcoming lawsuit or Bar complaint."

Waltz allegedly attached to that letter his entire client correspondence file, which Judge Taylor placed under seal. In one letter, Waltz "referred to a police report against Mr. Hazlewood filed by Mr. Hazlewood's ex-spouse." Another "noted a complaint of theft filed against Mr. Hazlewood by an old girlfriend." In a third letter, Waltz speculated that Hazlewood commingled his clients' funds. Yet another letter detailed Waltz's concerns about "whether Mr. Hazlewood was mentally ill and about the effect of his 'gambling history' on the case."

Interviewed via telephone from the Nellis Federal Prison Camp, Hazlewood didn't deny that he had misappropriated funds from an investment partnership he formed to purchase oil-drilling leases on federal property. He claimed his crime stemmed from unspecified personal problems that also led to a difficult divorce. "They charged me with misappropriating $1.8 million in one partnership," he said. "That was one partnership out of 30 I had done in 10 years of doing business."

But Hazlewood believes he deserves a new trial because his own defense attorney sabotaged his case. "My own attorney told the court he thought I was guilty," he said. "This is bigger than me. I have 16 months left before I go to a halfway house. I just want to get this story out."

Perhaps because of the crucial legal issue it raises, Hazlewood's appeal brief was prepared by the New York law firm of Dershowitz, Eiger & Adelson—with famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz listed as co-counsel. The firm became involved after Nancy Lord, Hazlewood's appeal lawyer, telephoned Dershowitz about the case. "Amazingly, he called me back," she said. "He gave the case to his brother, Nathan Dershowitz, but he's assisting them as co-counsel."

Lord said she first discovered Waltz's secret submission in 2003—four years after Judge Taylor sentenced Hazlewood to 11 years in federal prison. "There were 12 boxes," she said. "I went through everything and picked up this motion for continuance and looked inside it, and there it was. I was shocked because I had never heard of anything like that."

Since the file portrayed Hazlewood in a negative light, Lord believes it prejudiced Judge Taylor against her client. "It poisoned the whole case from the get-go," she said. "Three months after Hazlewood was arrested, that judge learned that his own attorney thought he was guilty."

Although Judge Taylor rejected Lord's initial appeal request, she has now brought the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has yet to issue a ruling. In January, Lord also filed a judicial complaint against Judge Taylor with the Judicial Council for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. She received no response for eight months, by which time Taylor had already retired. "The judge who is the subject of the complaint has retired," the judicial council finally responded. "The charges are therefore moot."

Meanwhile, in April, Lord filed a complaint against Waltz, who is now a family law commissioner with the Orange County Superior Court. (Waltz failed to respond to an interview request for this story.) A month ago, the California State Bar rejected her complaint without even asking Waltz to explain his actions. "In my practice, even if it's a patently frivolous complaint, the bar will ask an attorney for an explanation," Lord said. "I find this outrageous."

She's not the only one. Attached to Hazlewood's appeal brief are sworn declarations by numerous attorneys from around the country who can't believe what Waltz did—and that it hasn't already won Hazlewood a hearing for a new trial.

"It was a plain breach of the attorney/client privilege to file the correspondence file with the Court, under seal or not," wrote Clay Conrad, a prominent attorney in Houston, Texas.

"As a member of the Bar, I hold the attorney-client privilege to be sacred and would not have made such a revelation even under court order," stated Oakland attorney Dennis Roberts, the former president of the California Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. "Mr. Waltz's conduct violated the integrity of the legal profession and our system of justice."

NSCHOU@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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