Date Published 12.17.09
Legal troubles make people crazy, but for the most part it's litigants and judges, not lawyers, who are caught in the crosshairs.

However, two mysterious murders in the last month, in Oregon and California, suggest that no matter how white-collar the crime, or well intentioned the criminal defense, attorneys aren't always at a safe remove from violence.

In the late afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 24, a neighbor girl made her daily trip to Nancy Bergeson's house to walk Bergeson's golden retriever, Bodie.  This was southwest Portland, a low-crime area of middle-class homes.  With abundant parks and wilderness ranges nearby, Portlanders tend to be outdoorsy types, and Bergeson, 57, was no exception.  She was strong and athletic, a marathon runner, mountain climber, skier and dragon boat paddler.  Which is why it must have been a surprise for the dog walker to see through the front window the normally vital and lively Bergeson lying face down on the dining room floor.

At first investigators believed she'd died of natural causes.  But the next day the medical examiner conducted the autopsy, and issued a ruling --- Bergeson had been strangled to death.  This was murder.

Nancy Bergeson

Bergeson had worked for the last 18 years as an assistant federal public defender in the Oregon district, and by all accounts she loved her job and was known as a tenacious advocate for her clients.  Despite coming into contact with criminals and being involved in situations that were often full of high emotion and controversy, she didn't fear retaliation.  Or, if she did, she didn't talk about it.

Bergeson was divorced and had a 23-year-old daughter.  Her personal life was apparently peaceful and she had no known enemies.  Still, it appears she was targeted.  There was no sign of forced entry and the house wasn't ransacked; the front door was unlocked, but apparently that wasn't unusual.

One report says she was found in her pajamas near her open laptop computer.

The day before Bergeson's body was discovered, the man she was defending in federal court against charges of tax evasion was found guilty.  The case wasn't just run-of-the-mill tax evasion, but involved multiple defendants in a tax resistance scheme.  The case generated a lot of discussion among tax protesters, and, in this discussion board at least, they frequently mentioned Bergeson by name.

One particularly fervent tax protester posted about Bergeson the day after her murder, and it seems, both from the content of the post and what he communicated in later ones, that he didn't know about her death at the time he posted.  Which makes what he wrote all the more unsettling. 

I believe criminal skullduggery abounds in the ranks of the DOJ and IRS in all tax crime cases.  What will the DOJ or IRS do to Nancy Bergeson for acting like she believed in Marcel's innocence?

It's too far-fetched to believe the IRS or Department of Justice had anything to do with Bergeson's death.  It's not far-fetched to believe that someone --- a defendant, a defendant's family member, a passionate, unstable believer in some cause --- was involved, ironically attacking a person who has been unanimously described as a champion of justice.


Two weeks later, another lawyer was murdered while at home.

The gunshot rang out around 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 7.  Gunshots are rarely heard in Rolling Hills Estates, an upscale community southwest of Los Angeles --- the noise made an immediate impression.  Neighbors came out of their homes.  Jeffrey Tidus was sprawled in his driveway, blood in a pool around his head.

Tidus had recently returned home with his wife when he told her he needed to retrieve a laptop from his Toyota Prius.  He was apparently behind the car when he was shot in the head.  The laptop was on the lawn.

Tidus, 53, was a partner in Baute & Tidus, a downtown law firm specializing in civil litigation.  Tidus handled a wide variety of high-profile business litigation and securities cases, as well as professional malpractice.  His clients included New Century Financial, a large subprime lender that saw several former officers sued by the SEC and charged with fraud just hours before Tidus' murder.

Jeffrey Tidus

But the culprit may be another one of Tidus' cases.  In 2005 Tidus obtained a restraining order against a litigant who he said had threatened him.

In that case, Tidus' client sued a Los Angeles tax attorney, a man I'll call G.  The suit claimed G had mishandled a tax transaction, costing Tidus' client millions of dollars.

In a pretrial deposition, G pulled a camera out and took a photograph of Tidus, making what Tidus interpreted as a threat.

Tidus obtained a restraining order.  Shortly thereafter, G pleaded guilty to grand theft and filing a false claim for taxes.  Interestingly, G was also convicted of possession of an assault weapon.

Tidus eventually won a judgment against him.  G, a lawyer, had to resign his license to practice law.

G's life certainly fell apart after the lawsuit.  According to an Internet search, prior to his legal troubles G had been living extravagantly.  There were vintage cars and European racing tours.  Vacation homes.

But why exact revenge now, nearly five years after his contentious interaction with Tidus?

Maybe because the case had picked up again, although in G's favor.  On Nov. 17 the Court of Appeal threw out a $2.4 million punitive damage award against him, stating that he'd been deprived of his fundamental right to a fair trial.

There was going to be a new trial.  There was going to be more conflict with Tidus. 

Whatever the motive turns out to be, one thing is for sure --- Jeffrey Tidus was targeted.  No one reported seeing a getaway car or shooter on foot, meaning the killer stealthily approached Tidus' house, which abuts a brushy, hilly area and is near a park, making a calculated, surreptitious assassination more achievable.

It's possible the killer was even familiar with the neighborhood.  Greater Los Angeles is a huge area, but in looking into G's background, I found that his family spent 18 years in Palos Verdes Estates, the town right next to where Tidus lived. 

Records show they still own a home there --- 2.38 miles away.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.