Archive for June, 2006

Dunn Blasts Accusations of ‘Playing Politics’

June 28, 2006

A bill to boost lawyers’ contributions to legal aid programs sailed through the state Senate Judiciary Committee (Webcast) late Tuesday, but not before its chairman, Joe Dunn, skewered advocates for suggesting he played politics with the legislation.

Dunn, D-Santa Ana, surprised legal aid advocates two weeks ago when he held up Assembly Bill 2301, saying he had no problem with the measure’s goals but wanted to chat with its author, Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, about other issues facing California’s courts, specifically construction needs. Some bill supporters questioned whether Dunn was retaliating against Jones for endorsing John Chiang, Dunn’s successful opponent in the Democratic race for state controller.

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Congress Up In Arms About Milberg

June 26, 2006

[NOTE:  Updated after the jump.]

Sure, the indictment of Milberg Weiss sent a strong enough message to the plaintiff bar to beware the feds. But now the real heavyweights are showing up: On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises is going to do its best to get to the bottom of the suspected funny business within the plaintiff bar with a hearing on Capitol Hill.

And it will, we’re sure. Unless it’s just a big waste of time from a bunch of legislators trying to get some press during the slow summer months.

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Legal Memoirist to Take to the Air Waves

June 23, 2006

Nathan Cohn, the octogenarian who put out a book in March about his colorful (to say the least) law career harking back to 1940s San Francisco, is all set to tackle another medium with his stories. According to Rory McGahan, who collaborated with Cohn on his memoir, the voice behind “Murder He Liked” is scheduled to appear on KQED radio Tuesday at 10 a.m., during the second hour of the Forum program.

If you’re interested, you can listen live either on 88.5 FM in San Francisco or on the station’s Web site. Or you can check it out after the fact at the Forum archive.

Pam Smith

Judge Quits CJA Over Education Stance

June 23, 2006

A prominent Los Angeles judge says he’s bailing out of the California Judges Association because its leaders are too chummy with the Judicial Council. Superior Court Judge Philip Gutierrez, nominated in April to the federal bench, announced his resignation in an e-mail circulated among members Thursday.

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Sierra Club Takes Brief Lesson to Heart

June 23, 2006

Members of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club didn’t much like a ruling out of a state appellate court three months ago, but they did heed a footnote warning to quit wasting paper.

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It Ain’t the 2007 Budget Worrying Santa Clara DA

June 21, 2006

There’s nothing like a tense budget season to put everyone in the Santa Clara County administration building on edge.

The board of supervisors finally put an end to all the back-and-forth negotiations when it signed off on the new county budget last week. And while there will be no layoffs in the Santa Clara district attorney and public defender offices in the 2007 fiscal year, the departments aren’t exactly jumping for joy either — especially when they look ahead to a potentially agonizing 2008.

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Ninth Panel Can’t Squirm Out of Hawaii Case

June 20, 2006

Judge Andrew Kleinfeld echoed the sentiments of more than one person in an overflowing Ninth Circuit courtroom when he asked Kathleen Sullivan — the erstwhile Stanford dean, and now an appellate lawyer — for an easy way out of a tough schools case. “Is there any way we can avoid ruling on the merits?” he asked. Unfortunately for the 15 judges sitting on an en banc panel, Sullivan, representing Hawaii’s Kamehameha School, said no, and her opponent, Eric Grant, agreed.

So it looks like the panel will have to issue a ruling in the prickly case which originated when a student sued the school over its policy of admitting only students of native Hawaiian descent. Those students get preference, leaving all others on a long waiting list — behind even more native Hawaiians. 

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Pamela Torkelsen Visits Milberg Grand Jury

June 15, 2006

It has long been rumored — and, ahem, reported — that Pamela Torkelsen has been cooperating with the prosecutors looking into class-action giant Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman. On Thursday, that was publicly confirmed when she showed up to testify in front of the grand jury in Los Angeles, we’re told.

Her husband was very close to former Milberg partner William Lerach — John Torkelsen was Lerach’s favorite expert witness and was long suspected of working on a contingency fee — a mouth for hire who got paid based on how well he convinced a jury of Lerach’s arguments. While there’s widespread skepticism about what Torkelsen’s wife might know about the Milberg firm, a source familiar with the Torkelsens said she played a key role monitoring the flow of money through her husband’s business ventures — including the money he made from Milberg Weiss.

John Torkelsen pleaded guilty last year to making false statements in transactions that included government money, which drew him 70 months in a less-pleasant federal institution than he’d (plea) bargained for. Mrs. T also entered a guilty plea in connection with the failed investment fund that tripped up her husband, but hasn’t been sentenced. Prosecutors continue to chase down the Milberg Weiss firm — Bershad, Schulman and the firm have been indicted — and elusive ex-partner Lerach.

Justin Scheck

Judgeship Debate: Same Old New Process?

June 14, 2006

Legislative debate continues over how many new judgeships should be created next year. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who’s holding the line at 25 when the governor, the state Senate, Assembly Republicans — heck, just about everybody — all want at least 50, told reporters on Wednesday that he wants the administration to appoint “more people of color and women” to the bench.

Then he offered this: “We’ve been talking to the administration about that, and I think they’re talking about changing the process by which they bring in new prospects for judgeships. So I’m encouraged by some of those changes.”

To which the governor’s office replied: What changes?

“We haven’t changed our policy in terms of judicial selections at all,” said spokeswoman Sabrina Demayo Lockhart. The governor is committed to diversifying the judiciary and talked about the issue Wednesday with the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, Demayo Lockhart said. But, she insisted, no one’s changing the recruiting process.

We’ll see if that changes by the time a new budget is signed.

Cheryl Miller

Battle For Judgeships May Hinge on Race

June 13, 2006

This week’s legislative compromise to create 25 new judgeships next year has left nearly everybody wanting more. The governor wants 50. The state Senate wants 50. The chief justice wants at least 50.

But Assembly Democrats, unnerved by the thought of giving a Republican governor 50 judicial picks, are holding firm at 25. For now. Three sources close to budget negotiations say Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez may be willing to bump the number of appointments higher if Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees to name more ethnic minorities, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, to the bench.

Schwarzenegger has drawn some praise from Democrats for appointing a fair amount of their party-mates to judicial openings. But critics say he’s named too few judges of color, particularly Latinos.

No one was talking publicly Tuesday as top lawmakers huddled behind closed doors to hash out budget figures. But legislative leaders have said the number of new judges is still on the table. How Nunez could ever ensure that Schwarzenegger would indeed appoint more minorities isn’t clear. Nor is it easy to see the governor selling any deal resembling a quota system to fellow Republicans, especially those who say his picks so far haven’t been conservative enough.

But money for new judges is just one tiny piece of a $100 billion-plus budget that’s supposed to be signed by Thursday. As budget-writer Sen. Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, said Monday, “What remains to be worked out is the details.”

Cheryl Miller