Archive for December, 2005

Megafirms Skimping on the Megabucks?

December 16, 2005

What do these four firms have in common: Nossaman Guthner Knox & Elliott; Irell & Manella; Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner; and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges?

  1. All four have decided to increase base salary for first-year associates by $10,000.
  2. All four are 100-300 lawyer firms, with eight or fewer offices.

How are the global megafirms responding? With the sound of one hand clutching a wallet. Rumors persist that raises are just around the corner — but so far they haven’t happened. During the salary wars of the 1990s, one increase would be met immediately by virtually every other top player. Nobody dared being seen as trailing the pack.

So, what’s different now? Could it be that the megafirms — with top billing rates already in the $800-an-hour neighborhood and having committed a ton of investment in new international offices — are caught in a squeeze?

Scott DeVries, managing partner at Nossaman — which just raised first-year salaries from $115,000 to $125,000 — says it’s a more a sign of the tightening labor market. During the leaner first half of the decade, plenty of top-tier talent was on the market, and a midsize firm with a quality reputation could attract some of it even at rates slightly below market. But as the megafirms have ramped up hiring, top-tier graduates have grown scarce.

Got another theory? E-mail me here, or post a comment.

— Scott Graham


Time May Not Heal All Wounds

December 15, 2005

So you know those three cops of fajitagate fame? Though all three were acquitted of criminal charges months and months ago, they’re still facing civil suits brought by the two civilians who claimed they were the victims in a 2002 fight that supposedly started over a bag of fajitas.

Anyway, their civil trial in San Francisco Superior Court just got pushed back, from this month until May. But about two weeks before that happened, there was an interesting move by the defense. Loosely translated from some of the court documents (and I do mean loosely), it looks like this …

Lawyers for one of the cops (Alex Fagan Jr.) are now telling the court he wants to file a cross-complaint, claiming the civilians started in on him, and that they hurt him. This isn’t necessarily different than the story he reportedly gave when he testified during his criminal trial. But predictably, the lawyer for one of the plaintiffs in the civil case (Jade Santoro) is now like, Hello, we’ve been litigating this case for two years, and you come up with this complaint now?

Judging by the court docket, it looks like a judge may hear the two sides go at each other today.

— Pam Smith

X-Mas-lovin’ Judge Doesn’t Cry Over Onion Gag

December 14, 2005

With conservatives loudly lamenting the alleged marginalization of Christmas – Bill O’Reilly has lately been braying that the salutation “happy holidays? is offensive to Christians — one of the nation’s less sanctimonious news sources today offered up its own take.

In a story titled “Activist Judge Cancels Christmas,? the Wednesday issue of The Onion wrote that “In a sudden and unexpected blow to the Americans working to protect the holiday, liberal U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled the private celebration of Christmas unconstitutional Monday.?

The piece — parody, of course — went on to refer to the “all-powerful liberal courts,? and said that “In support of Reinhardt’s ruling, Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Jew, introduced legislation that would mandate the registration of every Christian in the United States.?

“That was my favorite, the Kennedy thing,? Reinhardt said late Wednesday. After 25 years on the Ninth Circuit, Reinhardt’s eloquently worded opinions have become notorious for infuriating social conservatives, and he’s been the frequent butt of outcries against an allegedly out-of-control judiciary. He said the Onion story hit a particularly soft spot for him.

“It’s kind of funny, because I happen to be a great fan of Christmas,? said Reinhardt, a Jew. “It’s the source of some contention in the family because I always have a Christmas tree.? Apparently, not everyone in his family is so enthusiastic about Christmas.

That’s no deterrent to the judge. “I love Christmas carols,? he said, “and Christmas is my favorite holiday.?

— Justin Scheck

Curses — Doyle’d Again!

December 12, 2005

Just when it looked as though the San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle had recovered from last year’s Cisco contract fiasco, he’s now caught in the city’s Norcal Waste Systems scandal. Last week’s explosive report from Dechert partner Chris Scott Graham — hired by the city in September to conduct an independent investigation — concluded that Mayor Ron Gonzales “misled the public and the City Council? when he brokered a secret $11.25 million deal with San Jose’s garbage company in 2000.

Doyle has been criticized for not doing enough to warn the Council against the trash company’s multimillion-dollar contract, but why couldn’t anyone on the Council do their own detective work? It would have saved the city a whole lot of bad press, not to mention the $100,000 earmarked for the Dechert report.

Doyle is being labeled the scapegoat by some, while others grumble that he’s the mayor’s loyal right-hand man who stayed quiet when he shouldn’t have. “Rick Doyle is just a ‘yes man.’ … He wants to get along with everyone,? said one South Bay attorney. “He’s not going to cross the mayor or anyone who he thinks is buttering his toast.?

Some councilmembers are demanding Doyle make a public apology, while others say he’s got nothing to be sorry about. The situation’s “uncomfortable,? Doyle acknowledged over the phone Friday. But, he added, he’s not “necessarily worried? about losing his job over this. Asked if he planned to apologize at Tuesday’s Council meeting, Doyle said we’d have to wait and see. He said he planned to make some sort of statement about the Norcal affair on Tuesday.

But then, maybe he won’t have to apologize — Gonzales hasn’t stopped saying “sorry? since the investigator’s report was released last Tuesday.

— Julie O’Shea

Judges Still Payin’ Their Dues?

December 12, 2005

For retirees, these judges are full of spit and vinegar.

For nearly a year, judges who have left the bench to practice mediation and arbitration have been in an uproar over a State Bar proposal to place them on the organization’s active lawyer rolls and start charging them dues.

Last week, the State Bar and the California Judges Association took a step back and decided to try to work things out. State Bar President James Heiting said Friday that representatives from the CJA and the Bar’s Board of Governors have agreed to sit down within the next month and discuss an alternative CJA proposal that could grant retired judges a “special status? Bar membership.

In return, he said, CJA President Terry Friedman has agreed to encourage retired judges doing alternative dispute resolution to pay 2006 dues of $395 in the meantime. State Bar officials said about 250 retired judges now work in the ADR field, 114 of them at JAMS.

State Bar leaders have maintained that requiring retired judges to be on active status is a longstanding policy that just hasn’t been enforced.

Friedland, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, said Friday that retired judges don’t object to paying dues or taking classes, but worry that they could be construed as practicing law if they are doing ADR work. “That’s not only incorrect,? he said, “but raises liability or malpractice concerns.?

— Mike McKee

Considering Corrigan

December 9, 2005

Quick thoughts on today’s appointment of Carol Corrigan to the California Supreme Court:

  1. Oral arguments just got livelier. The court already includes several active questioners; once Corrigan is on board, advocates will have to be that much more prepared.
  2. The First District’s Division Three has become quite a Supreme Court pipeline. Corrigan, Ming Chin and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar all served there immediately before their appointments.
  3. This is a seriously centrist court. Every justice is arguably less conservative than Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas and less liberal than John Paul Stevens or Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

— Scott Graham

Animal Activist Fights Investigators Tooth & Claw

December 8, 2005

San Francisco federal prosecutors are finding that bringing animal rights activists before a grand jury is like, well, herding cats.

Since 2003, law enforcement has been engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with Daniel San Diego, an on-the-lam activist accused of bombing two East Bay pharmaceutical companies, to little avail. Attempts to gain information on San Diego’s whereabouts through a federal criminal grand jury here have stalled repeatedly, as the pro-animal groups resist interrogation attempts and fight subpoenas.

On Thursday afternoon, a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel ruled that Northern District Judge Susan Illston was right to hold activist Michael Kennedy (referred to in the Ninth Circuit opinion as John Doe) in contempt for failing to testify in front of the grand jury. Kennedy’s lawyer, Rita Hao of Gonzalez & Leigh, argued that Kennedy should not have to answer questions because prosecutors targeted him as the result of an illegal wire tap.

And the Ninth Circuit panel of Judges Raymond Fisher and William Fletcher and Senior Judge Alfred Goodwin couldn’t totally disagree. Kennedy testified that he heard suspicious clicks on his phone, and received certain pieces of mail between him and his attorney that appeared to be opened. In one instance, a batch of such mail was mysteriously delivered “on a postal holiday when there was no regular mail delivery,? the opinion says.

And the judges, writing per curiam, also questioned an FBI agent’s tepid denial of illegal surveillance. “We have serious doubts regarding the adequacy of the FBI agent declaration in rebutting Doe’s claims,? they wrote, adding that the statement “falls short of an unequivocal denial.?

Alas, Kennedy won’t get out of testifying thanks to the agent, since, the judges wrote, the grand jury questions were general enough that they could have been based on evidence other than a wiretap or mail surveillance: Kennedy had earlier been detained by the FBI after agents found him in San Diego’s home.

Hao said Kennedy will likely have to choose between testimony and the slammer. “We’re working on the assumption that if he still refuses to testify, he’ll be remanded into custody fairly soon,? she said Thursday.

— Justin Scheck

Supreme Contentment?

December 8, 2005

It doesn’t get much better than not getting a single question while arguing before the California Supreme Court: That’s a good sign you’ve probably won your case.

So it went Tuesday for San Francisco Senior Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillette while arguing to retain the death penalty for a man convicted of the 1985 murders of two people in a Berkeley camp-ground for the homeless.

Gillette, the state’s capital case coordinator, laid out his case for more than 25 minutes without interruption. Admittedly, Justice Joyce Kennard, the court’s most active questioner wasn’t on hand for the Los Angeles arguments, but it still was unusual for five permanent justices and one pro tem to remain absolutely silent.

It might have been even more telling, though, that Gillette’s opponent, Alexander Reisman, a partner in San Francisco’s Bourdon & Reisman, was questioned by only two justices — Ming Chin and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar — and sparingly at that.

All of the justices appeared quite content with a judicial referee’s 2003 report that death-row inmate Ralph International Thomas had gotten a fair trial, despite allegations that his trial court lawyer didn’t follow leads that would have bolstered his claims of innocence.

Thomas was convicted of killing Mary Gioia, 22, and Greg Kniffen, 18, on Aug. 16, 1985. Both victims — Deadheads following a tour of the Grateful Dead — were beaten and shot near the Rainbow Village compound in Berkeley.

The California Supreme Court affirmed Thomas’ death sentence in 1992, but issued an order in 2001 seeking more information on the possibility that Alameda County Deputy Public Defender James Chaffee hadn’t followed leads that might have fingered another man in the homeless encampment as the real killer.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Philip Sarkisian presided over a subsequent hearing and found no reason to overturn Thomas’ death sentence.

Reisman’s arguments that the referee ignored substantial evidence fell mostly on deaf ears on Wednesday. So did his litany of testimony by fellow Deadheads and other campers who he and investigators tracked down almost two decades after the murders.

“These were nomads,? he told the court, “but predictable nomads. You just needed the Grateful Dead’s tour schedule.?
Gillette’s spirited deconstruction of Reisman’s argument was met with respectful attentiveness by some justices. Others shuffled papers and appeared to be doing other work.

— Mike McKee

Shirts Have Politicians, Crimefighters Teed Off

December 7, 2005

Who would have known a T-shirt could get under the skin?

One particular design is catching the (disapproving) eye of law enforcement types from coast to coast. Its simple concept is a stop sign, sometimes with bullet holes, and a message to “Stop Snitchin.?

The shirts, decorating chests in a number of U.S. cities, have particularly vexed the mayor of Boston. Thomas Menino made headlines last weekend when he made a blustery promise to have city officials yank them off store shelves. It didn’t take long for him to back off the brute-force plan; two days later he had turned his efforts to getting a prominent seller to pull them voluntarily.

In San Francisco, where city officials have often bemoaned the difficulty of persuading witnesses to step forward, the district attorney is also lamenting the shirts. “We’re seeing people, literally young men, walking around with T-shirts that say “Stop Snitching,? Kamala Harris said Wednesday, while answering reporters’ questions about the latest uptick in the city’s murder rate. (By the DA’s count, there have been 93 homicides committed in the city so far this year; she says she’s charged 11 of the 19 resulting cases that the police have brought her.)

But unlike the mayor of Boston, Harris doesn’t see that there’s much to be done about the cottonwear beyond conveying disapproval. It’s not, she noted, like the sellers are regulated by licenses. “It’s just happening on the street.?

She mentioned, though, that she might bring more murder cases to the grand jury, with the idea that witnesses might be more willing to open up in a closed-door proceeding.

— Pam Smith

Don’t Grinch Up Some Kid’s Christmas, Counselor

December 7, 2005
As a holiday public service announcement, Legal Pad reminds lawyers taking part in the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Head Start Holiday Gift Program that now’s the time to make good. As many as 2,034 kids throughout the Bay Area are expecting to receive presents this year from lawyers and staff at about 30 of the city’s law firms. So don’t let the child you picked to be the one left out! For the most part, lawyers are pretty good at remembering.    

Western Messenger Service delivers the gifts to the Head Start programs for free, and it’s no small load. Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal partner Paul Glad says he’s been involved with the program since its inception over 15 years ago, and the big bundle just keeps getting larger. It’s not uncommon for a classroom to receive three-dozen 30-pound packages, he says.

Glad should know. He started the program in San Francisco after Sonnenschein lawyers in Chicago answered children’s “letters to Santa? delivered to the U.S. Post Office. The Chicago lawyers hand-delivered their gifts to kids all over the city, and even traipsed to the then-notorious Cabrini Green Housing complex.

Back in S.F., Glad struck on the idea of enlisting Head Start classes. He called his program “Subordinate Claus” and dressed up as Santa to deliver the presents at the kids’ annual party. Today, the program operates as the Bar Association of San Francisco under the more serviceable title “Holiday Gift Program.”

Anybody wishing to make an early commitment for next year’s gift-giving effort should contact Jayne Salinger, director of special projects for BASF, at (415) 782-8910.

— Marie-Anne Hogarth