Sometimes the only way to end the frivolous filing of suits and legal motions by criminals is to hit them where it hurts - in their pockets.
That's the solution found by U.S. District Judge David Sam, who was getting snowed under in a blizzard of motions by Joseph A. Bonacci, sentenced to prison for cocaine crimes.Bonacci, a 54-year-old Salt Lake man, played an important part in a large cocaine ring that was convicted in 1986 for selling $2.5 million worth of the illegal drug over a three-year period.
He pleaded guilty to four counts - conspiracy and distribution of cocaine - and Sam sentenced him to 10 years behind bars. He must also serve 15 years on probation after he is released.
The month that Bonacci and his nearly two dozen co-defendants were arrested, defense lawyers tried to oust Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne T. Dance from the case. The prosecutor was admitted to the federal bar in 1983 but did not yet have a law degree; opposing lawyers claimed this violated federal rules.
Defense lawyers conceded Dance was admitted to practice law in the federal court but said it was with the understanding that he would take the Utah state bar examination soon. He had not yet taken it by the time Bonacci and the others were charged.
Defending Dance, U.S. Attorney Brent D. Ward said, "It is clear that the court had the inherent power to decide the question of admission to practice in federal court."
In August 1985, Judge David K. Winder ruled that Dance could remain on the case but ordered him to inform the court by March 1, 1986, whether he had taken the bar exam. If not, he was to tell what steps had been taken toward his admission to the Utah State Bar.
Dance took the exam in the fall of 1986 and was sworn in as a member of the Utah and federal bars in January 1987.
All that is old news. The matter was closed.
But soon after Bonacci was sentenced, he began filing suits and law briefs from the federal prison in Seagoville, Texas. He tried many different tacks in a futile attempt to have his guilty plea withdrawn, or at least have his sentence reduced.
He kept harping on the argument that because Dance didn't have a law degree at the time he shouldn't have prosecuted the case.
As if trying to re-argue a settled issue weren't enough, Bonacci branched out, claiming that Sam was wrong for allowing Dance to practice. He asked that Sam recuse himself - remove himself from the case - and Chief Judge Bruce S. Jenkins choose a new judge to retry him.
"There is an appearance of impropriety for the judge who knew Wayne Thomas Dance, was practicing law without a license and not being a member of the Utah State Bar," Bonacci wrote.
Sam responded this month, taking aim at Bonacci's prison account, the money with which prisoners are allowed to purchase cigarettes and other luxuries.
"Because the court has ruled on all Bonacci's criminal motions and dismissed all civil actions before it, the court is not certain in which matter Bonacci seeks recusal, because there simply is no case remaining," the judge wrote.
"Concerning disqualification of (Dance), the court notes its statement in a ruling, dated July 28, 1988, that it would impose sanctions should Bonacci again attempt to invoke jurisdiction on that issue.
"Accordingly, the court orders the Bureau of Prisons to pay the clerk of this court $100 from Bonacci's funds and account as a sanction for filing this frivolous motion."