Archive for November, 2005

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

November 29, 2005

Clemency for Stanley “Tookie” Williams? Don’t count on it. With a Dec. 13 execution date looming, the governor agreed to a clemency hearing next week for the Crips gang founder and cause celebre, who was convicted of four 1979 murders.

But his lawyers have one big problem: He’s innocent. Or so he’s always said. His claim of innocence has been of little help on appeal, and can only hurt him at next week’s hearing: How can he possibly atone for a crime he denies he ever committed?

His clemency petition (click for .pdf) illustrates his plight. Though it notes that Williams maintains he’s innocent, and takes a swipe at the circumstantial nature of the evidence against him, it doesn’t — it can’t — claim he harbors hopes of searching for the real killer. But neither can the petition express Williams’ contrition. Instead, under the heading “atonement,” his lawyers contend he’s atoned for the toll that gang violence has taken on victims everywhere.

Those pushing for clemency point to Williams’ transformation and his role in persuading kids to reject gang life, noting that he has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize (but hey, who hasn’t?). It’s a compelling case — especially if you already oppose the death penalty.

But Schwarzenegger can’t sell the public on clemency if Williams can’t say he’s sorry. For want of remorse, his cause is lost.

— Greg Mitchell


Attorney Reveals Secret of Making Good Dough

November 29, 2005

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher lawyers are doing a little pro-bono baking on the side.

At least six attorneys and staff members have committed to baking 450 cookies for the annual holiday party, on Dec. 15, at Compass Community Services, an organization providing shelter, transitional housing and other services to the homeless. Lawyers in the firm’s S.F. and Palo Alto offices are also “adopting? 19 Compass families, providing them with presents, clothes and other essentials.

The sweet move follows San Francisco partner Kathryn Coleman joining Compass’ board.

Coleman is an experienced cookie cutter: She’s been selling about 500 cookies a year at firm bake sales raising funds for various charities, and once produced 2,000 for a holiday party. After much negotiation with a source really, really close to Coleman (who must remain anonymous because, well, that seems to be working so well for other journalists these days), the Recorder’s crack investigative staff has obtained the document containing Coleman’s cookie recipe — apparently a clipping from an old issue of Gourmet magazine.

  • 1 pound of butter
  • 1 1/3 cups of sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 4 1/3 cups of flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • Mix together, roll out and cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes. Cool and decorate.

That’s not to say Coleman is giving up all her tricks — there was something about frosting the flatter, bottom side of the cookies rather than the top, for instance, but our sources swore us to secrecy.

— Marie-Anne Hogarth

Gorilla Lawsuit Nippled in the Bud

November 28, 2005
Alas, a long-awaited trial that promised to be a landmark in the nascent field of inter-species litigation is not to be. 

Alperin and Keller v. Gorilla Foundation­, Civ. 444886, filed early this year in San Mateo County, has settled. That means plaintiff lawyer Stephen Sommers won’t have to decide whether to call Koko — the sign-language-speaking gorilla with an alleged nipple fetish — to the witness stand. For her part, Koko owner Penny Patterson won’t be publicly defending claims that she ordered two female employees to bare their breasts to the gorilla, supposedly at Koko’s behest.

Sommers had little to say on Monday about the settlement. “The case has settled. The terms are not public,? he wrote in an e-mail.

That response is a far cry from how publicity surrounding the suit was handled after its February filing, which resulted in widespread press coverage and international guffaws. Solos Sommers and Michael Blacksburg said they were preparing to go to trial for what amounted to a relatively standard employment harassment suit. From the perspective of an outsider, it seemed they might have a case: Koko had long been unabashedly interested in nipples, most notably in a 1998 AOL online chat. And while Koko’s side of the story may never come out publicly, her response in the 1998 chat to Patterson’s plea for funds for a Maui gorilla center may give us a clue: “Hurry give-me mouth nipple,? Koko said.

Justin Scheck 

Six-Minute Separations

November 23, 2005

Billable Hours WatchWhat’s the best way to remind a lawyer that time is money?

Maybe you should consider giving them a Billable Hour watch.

Launched in early November — just in time for the holiday season — Billable Hour clocks and watches divvy up time the way billing software interprets the world: in six-minute increments.

Founded by Mark Solomon and Lisa Solomon, two married attorneys in New York, the Billable Hour offers two watch styles for men and women and two desk clock models for under $55 each.

— Millicent Mayfield

Better to be a Dark Horse?

November 22, 2005

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

But it looks like state Sen. Joe Dunn still has plenty of first chances left.

Only 12 percent of registered voters surveyed in a new Field Poll (link to .pdf) had any opinion at all about the plaintiff lawyer from Orange County, who’s running for state controller. Only one other candidate — out of 28 known or rumored contenders for seven statewide offices — prompted less of a reaction. (That would be Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer, a Democrat and former appointments secretary under ex-Gov. Gray Davis.) That might seem like a handicap compared to the high profile of someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but maybe not. The governor sparked an opinion in nearly all 774 registered voters surveyed last month. But more than half of the time, it was a negative one.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer would have had some catching up to do in the name-recognition department had he stuck with his old plan of challenging Schwarzenegger. But when the voters in the poll considered some of the state treasurer candidates he’s running against now, 48 percent had an opinion of Lockyer (more often favorable than not), compared to just 14 percent for each of two Republican opponents.

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who’s running to succeed the termed-out Lockyer as attorney general, made more of an impression than everyone except Schwarzenegger and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, garnering some kind of reaction from 70 percent of the surveyed voters.

Not even Warren Beatty or director Rob Reiner (aka “Meathead? on the 1970s sitcom “All in the Family?) got that much of a reaction. Just 64 percent and 66 percent had opinions on the somewhat-politically-active stars, whose names have been bandied about as possible challengers for the governor’s mansion.

— Pam Smith


New White-Collar Man Named for U.S. Attorney

November 18, 2005

It didn’t take long to replace Miles Ehrlich, the Northern District U.S. attorney’s white-collar chief who formally announced his departure last week. Late Friday, U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan sent out a letter saying that Michael Wang — the current major crimes division chief — would take over the white-collar division at the end of the year.

Wang “has had approximately 17 trials in which he’s obtained convictions in every one,? Eumi Choi, Ryan’s second-in-command, said Friday evening. Wang, she added, joined the office in 2000, after clerking for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Rory Little, a professor at Hastings College of the Law — and also a former Northern District AUSA who clerked on the Supreme Court — said Friday that Wang is a good choice. “He’s one of the smartest lawyers I’ve ever met,? Little said.

Justin Scheck

Well, He is Cuter than Ken Starr…

November 18, 2005

Standing as a shining beacon of justice amid a glamorous array of big-screen actors, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has made it into the coveted “sexiest men alive? spread in People magazine.

Better known as the lead investigator in the Plame-gate CIA leak investigation, Fitzgerald was nestled in the 20th annual survey’s “Why We Love Smart Guys? category — despite the under-eye bags he must be suffering from laboring over the highly contentious probe.

— Millicent Mayfield

Unmoving Violation

November 18, 2005

How’s this for a new Miranda right: You have the right to not have your car impounded from your driveway after the cops caught you teaching your unlicensed wife how to drive.

That’s the gist of Thursday’s Ninth Circuit opinion in Miranda v. City of Cornelius. The court ruled that the vigilant cop who “noticed that Mrs. Miranda was driving poorly and at a speed of about 10 miles per hour? on a neighborhood street should not have impounded her husband Jorge’s car after he parked it in their driveway.

“The impoundment of Plaintiffs’ vehicle was an unreasonable seizure not justified by the community caretaking doctrine because the police have no duty to protect a vehicle parked on the owners’ property and there was no reason to believe that impoundment would prevent any threat to public safety from its unlawful operation beyond the brief period during which the car was impounded,? Ninth Circuit Judge Ronald Gould wrote for a unanimous panel.

While it’s doubtful that the opinion will be widely applied, it appears to be a blow for the city of Cornelius, Ore., which will have to pay legal fees for the Mirandas.

Justin Scheck

Judge Had The Skinny on A3G

November 16, 2005

The identity of the blogger behind the judicial gossip site “Underneath Their Robes? was outed by the New Yorker this week to much fanfare. First off — and in contradiction to his online persona — the blogger known as “Article III Groupie? is not a gossip-hungry female lawyer (he’s a man). And second, he doesn’t work at a big firm. In fact, David Lat is a federal prosecutor in New Jersey. This came as a big surprise to most Article III Groupie groupies, although many news outlets (including the New York Times) pointed out that Richard Posner, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals judge, last year speculated that the blogger was a man.

But for one Ninth Circuit judge, there was no mystery.

“I knew about a year ago,? said Judge Alex Kozinski, who bestowed the nickname “A3G? on Lat’s online persona. It turns out that during Kozinski’s attempt to get nominated to the list of federal judiciary “superhotties? (he eventually won), one of the judge’s clerks — a Lat law school classmate — had a hunch. And an e-mail trace proved him right. But Kozinski kept quiet, he said, out of fear that outing the blogger would bring her — um, him — professional repercussions.

Justin Scheck

Justice Isn’t Colorblind

November 16, 2005

An ad agency’s analysis of how the 200 most profitable law firms use color on their Web sites shows a surprising trend: Blue is hot.

According to a Boston Globe story on the survey, 116 of the firms predominantly use blue — seen as a “low arousal? color — in logos, Web sites, business cards and other marketing materials. On the other hand, only 19 firms use high-arousal red in their brand identity, according to Boston-based Partners + Simons.

But California, a state that’s always been more interested in making, rather than following, trends, doesn’t sync up with the rest of the country.

A quick look at the Web sites of 12 big Golden State firms paints a different picture — one might even call it a rainbow coalition.

  • Latham & Watkins: red and gray
  • O’Melveny & Myers: blue and green
  • Gibson, Dunn: earth tones
  • Paul, Hastings: blue
  • Morrison & Foerster: black and blue
  • Orrick, Herrington: green and gray
  • Heller Ehrman: red, black and yellow
  • Pillsbury Winthrop: red, white and gray
  • Wilson Sonsini: yellow and blue
  • Cooley Godward: red, white and gray
  • Thelen Reid & Priest: blue and white
  • Sheppard, Mullin: blue, white and orange

I can see it now: Cravath, Swaine & Moore will redesign its site using an orange and pink motif.

Candice McFarland