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Stephen Yagman

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Stephen Yagman (born December 19, 1944) is an American federal civil rights lawyer and advocate. Among criminal defendants and litigants against police departments, he has a reputation as an effective counsel and advocate, particularly in cases regarding allegations of police brutality,[1] and as a "pugnacious civil rights lawyer."[2][3]

In 2007, Yagman was convicted of criminal tax evasion, resulting in both his legal disbarment and in a three-year federal prison sentence. Yagman contended, in his defense, that the IRS had selectively and vindictively prosecuted him, ignoring the difference between tax avoidance, which is legal, and tax evasion, which is not,[4] because, as Idaho Special Prosecutor (1997–2001), he prosecuted homicide charges against FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi for allegedly murdering Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992[5] and because on January 19, 2002 he brought the first Guantanamo Bay detainee case and won it on December 18, 2003.[6]

Youth, education and early career[edit]

Stephen Yagman was born in 1944 in Brooklyn, New York to working-class parents. His father was a dental technician and his mother was a secretary.[3] Yagman attended Abraham Lincoln High School.[7] After attending the State University of New York at Buffalo, he then graduated from Long Island University in Brooklyn.

Yagman received a B.A. in American History, with minors in philosophy and political science, he later earned an M.A. in philosophy from New York University, where his mentor was Professor Sidney Hook, and his master's dissertation was on the Fifth Amendment's self-incrimination clause. He attended Fordham University School of Law, receiving a J.D. in 1974, where he was on the dean's list and received the Jurisprudence Award of the Guild of Catholic Lawyers.[8] During graduate school and law school, he taught (English, remedial reading, social studies, economics, and Spanish) in the New York City public school system in Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant, in Title I schools, from 1967-74. From 1967 until their divorce in 1994, he was married to Marion R. Yagman, with whom he practiced law for many years after their divorce.[9]

Legal career[edit]

Yagman's legal career began before he graduated, as an attorney-intern with the New York City Legal Aid Society. Yagman was mentored by former N.Y. City Legal Aid Society director Martin Erdmann, attorney Charles Garry, house counsel to the Black Panther Party, and former U.S. Attorney General, Ramsey Clark. After graduating law school, he was appointed by New York State Attorney General Louis J. Lefkowitz to the office of the New York State Attorney General as a Special Assistant Attorney General, assigned as an Assistant Special Prosecutor for Nursing Homes, in the Manhattan office of the Special State Prosecutor for Nursing Homes.

In 1986, Yagman successfully challenged a proposed nationwide suspension of federal jury trials due to budget shortfalls, in Armster v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 792 F.2d 1423 (9th Cir. 1986). In a unanimous opinion in a related proceeding, Armster v. U.S. Dist. Ct, 817 F.2d 480 (9th Cir. 1987), Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt said, "Yagman's vigilance in the protection of his clients' constitutional rights served all citizens. His fortitude and tenacity in the service of his civil rights clients exemplifies the highest traditions of the bar." University of California at Berkeley Law School, Boalt Hall, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said of Yagman, "His knowledge of the law is encyclopedic[,] . . . [and h]e is one of the most experienced lawyers in the country in dealing with police abuse cases . . . ."[10]

In 1994, Yagman successfully represented one of the groups that opposed implementation of California Proposition 187 (a state, anti-immigrant law). In a series of cases, Children Who Want an Education v. Wilson, 908 F.Supp. 755 (C.D.Cal. 1995), 997 F.Supp. 1244 (C.D.Cal. 1997), and 54 F.3d 599 (9th Cir. 1995), Yagman was granted preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing the denial of public school education to undocumented students.

On November 12, 1997, Yagman was sworn in by U.S. Dist. Judge Robert M. Takasugi as Special Prosecutor for the State of Idaho to prosecute FBI sniper Lon T. Horiuchi in the August 22, 1992 Ruby Ridge killing of Vicki Weaver. In 2001, Yagman won a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declaring that federal law enforcement agents did not enjoy sovereign immunity and could be prosecuted criminally for state law homicide. Idaho v. Horiuchi, 253 F.3d 359 (9th Cir. 2001)(en banc). In January 2002, Yagman brought the first case seeking habeas corpus relief for Guantanamo Bay detainees, and in December 2003, won the first case in which it was declared that Guantanamo detainees were entitled to seek habeas corpus relief in United States courts. Gherebi v. Bush & Rumsfeld, 374 F.3d 727 (9th Cir. 2004).[2][7]

In County of Los Angeles v. U.S. Dist. Ct. (Forsyth v. Block), 223 F.3d 990 (9th Cir. 2000), federal Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski noted that Yagman: "has a formidable reputation as a plaintiff's advocate in police misconduct cases; defendants in such cases may find it advantageous to remove him as an opponent." Some of his most notorious cases involved the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department .[11][12]

Yagman lodged complaints of judicial misconduct against U.S. District Judge Manuel Lawrence Real which, according to one commentator, "were at the center of the controversy over the effectiveness of the federal judicial disciplinary system and exerted a uniquely powerful influence on subsequent attempts at reform."[12] The United States Judicial Conference cited the Yagman disciplinary case in adopting its 2008 nationwide procedures for handling complaints of misconduct against federal judges. In his 2011 book, Lawyers on Trial, UCLA School of Law Professor of Law Emeritus Richard L. Abel rated Yagman as a "highly competent, dedicated lawyer who is a champion of unpopular causes".[13]

Criminal Conviction[edit]

Yagman was convicted of one count of tax evasion, one count of bankruptcy fraud, and 17 counts of money laundering on August 23, 2007. Yagman was convicted of "attempting to avoid payment of more than $100,000 in federal taxes", and he was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Yagman also failed to pay "significant amounts of federal payroll taxes" by his then-law firm, Yagman & Yagman, P.C. Although Yagman claimed he was singled out as retaliation, an appeals court upheld his conviction. Yagman was summarily disbarred from the State Bar of California on December 22, 2010.[14]


In 2007, after Yagman's tax evasion conviction, he was invited to co-teach and taught a course at UCLA Law School on law, morality, and social justice with professor Frances Olsen.[15]


Yagman has written two national legal practice books, Section 1983 Federal Jury Practice and Instructions (West Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0-314-22826-8), and Police Misconduct and Civil Rights, Federal Jury Practice and Instructions (Thomson Reuters West, 2002, ISBN 0-314-10293-0), a play, Guantanamo, Act IV (Beyond Baroque, 2004), and hundreds of newspaper columns.


  • Los Angeles Reader, "L.A.P.D. Death Squad", April 10, 1992, cover
  • Los Angeles New Times, "Cop Cruncher", October 2, 1997, cover
  • Los Angeles Times Magazine, "One Angry Man", June 28, 1998, cover
  • California LawBusiness, "Sympathy for the Devil", November 6, 2000, cover
  • Jerome Herbert Skolnick and James J. Fyfe, Above the Law, Police and the Excessive Use of Force (Free Press, 1993), pp. 17–18, 146-64, 203.


  1. ^ National Law Journal, pg. 1, February 28, 2011, "Yagman unbowed, but getting on with life"
  2. ^ a b Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, "Attorney Tops Cops' Most Wanted List", December 19, 1988, p. 1
  3. ^ a b Los Angeles Daily Journal, October 26, 1987, pg. 1.
  4. ^ California Bar Journal, January 2011.
  5. ^ Idaho v. Horiuchi, 253 F.3d 359 (9th Cir. 2001)
  6. ^ Gherebi v. Bush and Rumsfeld, 374 F.3d 727 (9th Cir. 2004), as amended.
  7. ^ a b Yagman, Police Misconduct and Civil Rights, Federal Jury Practice and Instructions (Thomson West Publishing, 2002), XLVII-LV
  8. ^ Fordham Univ. transcript, govt. exhibit 27 in U.S. v. Yagman, 06-00227-SVW (C.D. Cal.)
  9. ^ Yagman official site; accessed April 18, 2014.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ Jessica Garrison, "L.A. Officials Know To Expect Attorney's Call", L.A. Times, March 22, 2006, p. B1
  12. ^ a b Lara Bazelon, "Putting the Mice in Charge of the Cheese: Why Federal Judges Cannot Always be Trusted to Police Themselves and What Congress Can do about It", 97 Kentucky Law Journal pp. 439, 455 & n. 103, 2008-2009.
  13. ^ Lawyers on Trial, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 380-83, 456, 457.
  14. ^ "Pugnacious civil rights lawyer Stephen Yagman is summarily disbarred". Retrieved 2018-04-29. 
  15. ^ Yagman invited to teach an undergrad course on morality at UCLA,; accessed June 23, 2015.