Saga of Counterfeit-Software Case Ends with Acquittal

February 1, 2008
By Press

By Robert Iafolla

Daily Journal Staff Writer

This article appears on Page 1.

LOS ANGELES – A year ago, a small-business owner and mother of two was facing a one-year prison sentence after being convicted in federal court for selling counterfeit software. Maintaining her innocence, the woman, Joan Huang, refused a plea deal before trial. But her trial lawyer gave no opening statement, did not call witnesses, did not present evidence and did no cross-examination of key witnesses. During closing arguments. her attorney mistakenly incriminated Huang. The representation was so bad that a federal judge granted Huang a second chance in June, vacating the conviction and ordering a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel, an often-used but rarely successful claim. Huang’s strange and trying odyssey through the criminal justice system came to an end Friday when a federal jury acquitted her on all charges. U.S. v. Huang, CR03-1284 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 25, 2008). Along the way, the Taiwanese immigrant lost her computer wholesale business and sold her Arcadia home. She struggled to care for her children, 10 and 14, in part because her husband is disabled with Parkinson’s disease. Her respect for American justice, however, remains strong. “I think most of the people in the system are good. They have a hard job, and they do very important work,” said Huang, 44. “Unfortunately, I had two people who did me very wrong.” Her first lawyer, David E. Brockway of Marina del Rey, had a history of misconduct during his three decades as a lawyer. On the eve of Huang’s trial, Brockway, 60, recieved notice of a 5-year suspension from the State Bar for bilking several Asian clients. He was disbarred in December for failing to tell clients and opposing counsel of his suspension. Brockway could not immediately be reached for comment. The number listed on his State Bar profile is no longer in service. In addition, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement named Yong Chin betrayed Huang and the justice system in this case, said defense attorney Ronald O. Kaye. Kaye began representing Huang after the first trial. During the retrial, Kaye argued that Huang was unaware that any of the Symantec software was counterfeit. He claimed Symantec hired private investigators who hooked up with federal law enforcement to crack down on small businesses that inadvertently sold counterfeit goods. Kaye said Chin threatened Huang and a friend with taking away their children. The friend, Olivia Vitzthum, recanted her grand-jury testimony in a tearful turn on the witness stand, admitting she committed perjury but claiming Chin pressured her to implicate Huang. Prosecutor Wesley S. Hsu, who won conviction in the first trial, called the retrial “tough.” A government witness was no longer accessible, and some evidence was excluded because Huang was acquitted on one of the eight counts against her in the first trial, Hsu said. After the seven-day trial, the jury took 90 minutes to acquit Huang on the seven remaining charges. U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper told Hsu that “something should be done” about Chin. Hsu said he is discussing the judge’s comments about Chin with a supervisor but could not comment further. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice referred questions back to the U.S. attorney’s office. Huang said her attention is now focused on her kids. “With this conviction behind me, I’m looking around for job opportunities and reaching out to see how I can create financial security for my children,” she said. “The most important thing is to raise my children and send them to good colleges.”