Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 | 5:58 p.m.
CARSON CITY - A federal court has overturned the criminal contempt conviction of a Las Vegan found guilty of ghostwriting briefs and motions in a civil case despite not being a licensed attorney.
The conviction of James Kimsey for unlawful practice of law was reversed partly because of a foul up by licensed attorneys.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in reversing the conviction, said "Here, the government may have proven that Kimsey is, if not the devil, no saint. But it has failed to persuade us that Kimsey was in criminal contempt under the applicable federal statute."
In a decision written by Judge Marsha Berzon, the court said one reason for the reversal of the conviction was Kimsey was denied the right to a trial by jury.
Kimsey represented his friend Rick Rizzolo who was being sued after a customer at his Crazy Horse Too topless club in Las Vegas was attacked so ferociously that he became a quadriplegic.
Rizzolo was initially represented by a licensed attorney who later withdrew from the case. Without legal advice, Rizzolo allowed Kimsey to write and file eight pleadings which showed knowledge of the legal system but were not signed by him.
Kimsey was convicted in 1987 in Nevada of unauthorized practice of law. And in the present case, he was charged with criminal contempt for the unlawful practice of law.
He retained the right to a jury trial but the case was heard by U.S. District Judge Philip Pro and he was found guilty.
Kimsey argued in his appeal he had a right to a jury trial, which the government challenged because the offense carried a prison sentence of less than six months. "Deprivation of the right to a jury trial constitutes a structural error requiring reversal," said the court.
The court also reversed the conviction on grounds that Kimsey could not be found guilty of criminal contempt for violating the local standing rules of the court.
The court said the word "rule" applies to a specific direction by a court. It is not meant as a general standing regulation. "Interpreting the term rule‚ to include local court rules would lead to absurd results," Berzon wrote.
A local rule may require all documents submitted to the court be submitted on opaque, unglazed, white paper (including recycled paper) not less than 1.3-pound weight. It is unlikely, said the court that violation of this rule could result in a criminal contempt conviction.