Archive for March, 2006

Chamber: No Favorite for Santa Clara DA

March 31, 2006

With the June 6 primary just two months away, endorsements for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s race are still flooding in. But there’s at least one organization that has refused to put its seal of approval on any of the four candidates.

The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce released a statement last month saying that the candidates — Assistant DA Marc Buller, Superior Court Judge Dolores Carr, Deputy DA James Shore and Chief Assistant DA Karyn Sinunu — all left “positive impressions.? But none ended up receiving the two-thirds vote needed to receive an endorsement from the chamber.

In the race for San Jose City Council, the chamber did endorse Samuel “Sam? Liccardo, a deputy DA who took a leave from his job in February to run for political office.

Liccardo, 35, is running to replace Cindy Chavez, who is leaving her post as vice mayor on the San Jose City Council to run for mayor.

“He is a fresh face, and this is a great opportunity to bring progressive ideas to the city council,? Chamber President and CEO Pat Dando said in a prepared statement.

Liccardo’s family name carries a lot of clout in the South Bay legal scene. His father, Salvador Liccardo, made a name for himself in the ’60s and ’70s doing consumer litigation work.

— Julie O’Shea

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Susan Polk Goes It Alone (Again)

March 31, 2006

Susan Polk severed perhaps her closest connection to the outside world when she fired case manager Valerie Harris yesterday in the midst of court proceedings. Though Harris didn’t see it coming, she called her departure “amicable” and didn’t rule out a return to the Contra Costa superior courtroom as an observer.

“I really do wish her the best of luck,” said Harris, who joined Polk’s defense with attorneys Daniel Horowitz and Ivan Golde.

In January, following the murder of Horowitz’s wife Pamela Vitale, Polk fired Horowitz and Golde but asked Harris to stay on. Polk has represented herself without co-counsel since her trial for the murder of her husband Felix Polk began on Mar. 7.

Since Harris isn’t a licensed attorney, she is not constrained by attorney-client privilege when speaking publicly about Polk’s legal defense. Even so, her comments just hours after leaving Polk’s side for the last time reflect an abiding loyalty to the defendant.

Harris said earlier in the trial she gave Polk an LSAT preparation book. “I told her when she gets out [of jail], she should go to law school,” she said. “She’s done some cross-examination that’s as good as any I’ve seen, lawyer or not.”

One reason for the timing of Harris’ dismissal may be that deputy DA Paul Sequiera appears to be wrapping up his case, and Polk is “well-prepared” for her defense, Harris said. Harris credited Polk for drawing out damaging information about Felix Polk from prosecution witnesses, statements Harris believes may help Susan Polk’s defense.

“Don’t forget, this is just the prosecution case. [Polk] hasn’t told her side yet,” Harris said.

Whether or not she attends the remainder of Polk’s trial, Harris said she hasn’t decided whether she will continue updating her Web site CourtRoomBlog.com, where Harris has documented sensational legal dramas, including the Scott Dyleski prosecution, the Scott Peterson trial and the “Wendy’s finger-in-the-chili case.” According to a page view counter on the site, CourtRoomBlog.com has registered almost 200,000 hits to date.

— Matthew Hisrch

The Case of the Disappearing DA

March 30, 2006

It appears some sort of shake up is going on inside the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office — and we aren’t talking about election season.

There’s been a lot of whispering going on about longtime Deputy DA Cameron Bowman, who was apparently escorted out of the county administration building last week and hasn’t been seen since.

Bowman has retained prominent San Jose criminal defense attorney Kenneth Robinson, but when contacted Wednesday Robinson didn’t want to say why.

"He’s not been fired,” Robinson said. “There has not been discipline imposed on Cameron Bowman for anything.”

As of Wednesday Bowman’s voicemail still seemed to be in working order.

Supervisors at the DA’s office issued their standard “no comment” on personnel matters.

— Julie O'Shea

This Case May Contain Toxic Logic

March 28, 2006

Did you realize that seat cushion foam, lawn mowers, crayons and roofs contain potentially deadly toxins? How about marking pens and exercise equipment?

Neither did three appellate justices who were shocked out of their socks by an unbe-lievably huge list of violations compiled by a couple of Orange County lawyers who sued the owners and managers of more than 1,000 apartment complexes for allegedly violating Proposition 65, the 1986 ballot measure requiring posted warnings about possible exposure to toxic substances.

The sheer audacity of Costa Mesa attorneys Anthony Graham and Michael Martin — self-styled “bounty hunters” involved in what the court called a “shake down” complete with “straw plaintiffs” — forced the justices to reverse a settlement that gave the men huge attorneys fees while doing nothing to protect the public from harm.

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Pellicano Periphery: A Dead Dog, a Frisky Fighter & the FBI

March 27, 2006

Make enough phone calls asking about Anthony Pellicano and you’ll eventually come to Seth Ersoff, a show-biz agent who had little — if any — interaction with the celebrity private eye, but whose story nonetheless reinforces what the rest of us already knew about Hollywood: Everybody’s a little nuts there.

Ersofff’s seemingly normal dispute with a client — normal for L.A., given that it involved a famous boxer’s apparent extramarital affair — turned fatal for his wife’s lap dog after Pellicano’s name was invoked. And then there was the alleged novel litigation tactic by an opposing lawyer. “He tried to scare me by initiating a raid on my house with the FBI,? Ersoff said last week.

Ersoff’s suit against the lawyer, Michael Plonsker, Ersoff’s former agent, and boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard was plodding along quietly until the Pellicano scandal blew up; since then, Ersoff’s been talking with reporters from Vanity Fair, the Daily Journal, and various other publications. “It’s so crazy that I never really said anything, and then I lost touch until I found out about all these Pellicano things,? he said.

The full story is up at CalLaw.com.

Justin Scheck

They Don’t Call it a Brief for Nothing

March 27, 2006

Even though the First District Court of Appeal sided with San Francisco attorney Mark Clausen last week in a ruling against Oakland’s “beat feet ordinance,” the justices tweaked him a bit for wandering off topic in his sometimes wordy, sometimes off-topic written arguments.

Perhaps they were grumbling about Clausen’s odd reference, in a 55-page reply brief, to the islands of Micronesia, a citation that appeared to have more significance for a jet-setter than the judiciary.

While arguing that the Oakland ordinance violates due process by failing to offer a speedy “probable cause” hearing, Clausen noted that the Federated States of Micronesia requires such hearings. Then, with little indication of why Clausen chose to mention Micronesia (a former U.S. territory that gained independence in 1986) he quickly assumed the tone of a silver-tongued travel agent.

“Thus, in addition to beautiful beaches, ocean views, tranquility, an effervescent innocence and the absence of a police oversight monitor at taxpayer expense,” Clausen wrote, “the Federated States offer another attraction over the City of Oakland; adherence to principles embodied in the Fourth Amendment and Due Process Clauses of the state and federal constitutions.”

Demonstrating judicial restraint, the court did not reply specifically to Clausen’s sales pitch on behalf of the Micronesia visitors’ bureau. Rather the justices, in the footnotes of a 16-page unpublished ruling, simply said one of his briefs “range[d] considerably beyond those discrete points” they asked him to address.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see if any of the justices go island hopping in the Pacific when the court breaks for summer recess.

— Matthew Hirsch

Immigration Bill Spooks Patent Bar

March 23, 2006

Members of the patent bar have joined the immigration reform debate. A bill being debated by the Senate Judiciary Committee that would transfer jurisdiction over appeals of deportation orders from the regional court of appeals to the Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ignited cries of protests from patent lawyers.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., affects many aspects of immigration policy and security in addition to changes in H-1B and green-card laws. But what alarms many patent attorneys is the provision in the 300-page bill that would shift the burden of reviewing thousands of deportation appeals to the CAFC, which has nationwide jurisdiction over patent appeals.

The bill calls for increasing the number of judgeships on the Federal Circuit from 12 to 15 to accommodate the additional workload, but patent attorneys say the three more judges would not be enough to handle the arrival of 12,000 immigration appeals now clogging appeals court dockets around the country.

“The infrastructure of the Federal Circuit is not equipped to handle such a large influx of additional appeals,” said Edward Reines, a patent litigation partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges and vice president of the Federal Circuit Bar Association. “There is a real risk that the adjudication of patent appeals will be adversely affected if the Federal Circuit is forced to resolve all immigration appeals.”

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La Raza Lawyers Will Sit Out Alameda Judge Race

March 23, 2006

Alameda County records show there were three — count ’em, three — past officers of the East Bay La Raza Lawyers Association who took out papers to run for the judicial seat being vacated by retiring Judge Donald Squires. But because of apparent miscommunication among the three, none of their names will appear on the June 6 ballot.

Berkeley attorney Leandro Duran said he was disappointed to learn that Rocio Fierro — like him a former president of the group — hadn’t turned in final paperwork. Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Duran said he and former law partner Victor Ochoa took preliminary steps to become a judicial candidate, but each of them opted not to run because they were planning to support Fierro.

“We thought it was Rocio who was going to run, so he (Ochoa) yielded and I yielded,�? Duran said.

Fierro, a 17-year veteran of the Oakland city attorney’s office who helmed the East Bay La Raza Lawyers in 2002, could not be reached for comment.

All of this may come as a relief for county voters, who already have to choose from a crowd of six judicial candidates. Others who took out nomination papers but did not qualify for the judicial election are court commissioner Thomas Nixon, Michael O’Reilly and Andrew Wiener.

— Matthew Hirsch

Nadel to Join Cooley Godward

March 21, 2006

A mysterious phone call Tuesday from a Cooley Godward spokeswoman — one about an upcoming “antitrust? and “cybercrime? announcement to be kept top secret until Wednesday morning — seemed to indicate big doings for the firm. “As I mentioned on the phone, Cooley will be announcing some news tomorrow at 8 a.m. EST via MarketWire. Just wanted to give you an early heads up,? Emily Foley wrote in a followup e-mail.

A few phone calls later, though, it became clear that the announcement is a long-rumored one: Ross Nadel, the former criminal chief in the San Francisco U.S. attorney’s office, is apparently set to join the firm on Wednesday to head a cybercrimes unit. Nadel, a highly regarded prosecutor who has recently been in the news as one of the assistant U.S. attorneys who interviewed Barry Bonds before a grand jury on his alleged steroid use, is known as an expert in cybercrime. He’s been working as a legal consultant since then, and former colleagues have expected him to land a top-notch defense job for some time.

Justin Scheck

‘Cut & Paste’ Shoots Down Shooting Victim’s Case

March 21, 2006

Note to lawyers: you probably should prepare new briefs for each case you do.

On Tuesday, a split three-judge Ninth Circuit panel granted Jacqueline Canales-Vargas’ request to have an immigration court review its denial of her asylum claim, even though the Peruvian refugee — who said she was a threatened after speaking out against Shining Path rebels — might have suffered from some less-than-original lawyering.

In a footnote to his majority opinion, Judge Harry Pregerson wrote that “Canales-Vargas also claims in her opening brief that she was shot four times by members of the Shining Path. As both the government and our dissenting colleague properly note, these facts are not in the record and appear to be a vestige from a different immigration case that Canales-Vargas’ attorney cut-and-pasted into the brief in this case. Of course, we do not hold the sloppiness of Canales-Vargas’ attorney against Canales-Vargas herself.?

Lucky her, given that the decision was close: Judge Alex Kozinski, in dissent, wrote that the opinion unfairly eroded the immigration judge’s authority. “We have never before held that anonymous death threats, without a scintilla of corroborating harassment, compel a finding that an asylum seeker’s fear of persecution is well-founded, and I cannot join the majority in interfering, yet again, with the ability of Immigration Judges to do their jobs,? he wrote.

Justin Scheck