Candidates spar at Sacramento County district attorney forum
The attorney whose client was at the center of an alleged "secret deal" with county prosecutor-now-district attorney candidate Noah Phillips was suspended Monday from practicing law in California for allegedly misappropriating funds, according to State Bar filings.
The violations alleged against Danny Brace are not connected to murder defendant Tiwan Greenwade, who testified at trial against three alleged accomplices in the 2016 killing of Ashok Kumar, 60, at Kumar's south Sacramento home.
The State Bar violations were connected to clients' settlement checks, fee advances and funds held in trust from 2014 and into 2016. The case was filed in October 2017. Its resolution was posted Monday on the Bar's website.
Brace categorically denied the allegations at the time in filings responding to the charges, and was as adamant on Tuesday.
"These are unfortunate issues that have nothing to do with criminal issues," Brace said Tuesday. "I still don't think I did anything wrong." The State Bar's ruling marks the first disciplinary action taken against Brace in more than 30 years of practice.
But the charges against Brace have added more fuel to the allegations levied against Phillips by Phillips' campaign rival and boss, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. Schubert has made the claims of prosecutorial misconduct filed by defense attorneys against Phillips a central point of attack in the waning weeks of the campaign.
A recent Schubert campaign ad ramps up the rhetoric, calling Phillips "unethical" and "dangerous," flashing images of Greenwade's mug shot and suggesting that Phillips could face felony charges and disbarment if the claims prove true.
Phillips, who had just won the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, blasted the ad Monday as "race-baiting, fear-mongering … and exactly what you would expect from someone on the ropes."
Schubert campaign manager David Gilliard said Tuesday the campaign stood by the ad.
Now Schubert's camp has turned its attention to Brace: "We found it interesting that the attorney defending the secret deal that Noah Phillips cut with his murder defendant client has been suspended by the State Bar," Gilliard said.
Brace was quick to respond Tuesday.
"This had nothing to do with my criminal practice," Brace said. "It's nobody else's business and they need to back off."
Phillips has been saddled with the misconduct allegations since late April when defense attorney Michael Wise accused the DA challenger of coaxing and coaching tainted testimony from Greenwade against his co-defendants at trial in Kumar's death in exchange for a lighter manslaughter sentence.
Wise claimed Phillips furnished a "script" of questions to Brace for Greenwade ahead of Greenwade's testimony at trial. Sacramento County jurors found Greenwade guilty of manslaughter, but convicted defendants Vicki Rainone, Kumar’s wife, Rohini Kumar, Vicky Rainone and Wise’s client, Raghua Sharma, in the Aug. 12, 2016, slaying. All face sentencing in June, but Wise with attorneys for Rainone and Rohini Kumar argued Friday for a new trial on the strength of the allegations.
But Sacramento Superior Court Judge Curtis Fiorini told defense counsel he needed to see more proof to support claims of an alleged deal and to prove that Greenwade lied to hold up his end of the bargain.
Fiorini scheduled an evidentiary hearing for June 8 – three days after election day.
Both Phillips and Brace have emphatically denied a deal was in the works.
Phillips ripped the claims as a prop engineered by Schubert for political gain in an unexpectedly tough race to keep her seat.
"There’s no secret deal,” Phillips said following a Friday hearing in Sacramento Superior Court on the misconduct claims. “Now my own office is trying to throw me under the bus to use as a political weapon.”
Brace has repeatedly said his client never lied on the witness stand and said he still plans to present declarations at the June 8 hearing as Greenwade's former attorney of record.