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There’s a new face in the San Francisco district attorney’s homicide unit, and it’s female. Joining the homicide team is Sheila Ross, 32, who becomes the only woman in the unit headed by Assistant District Attorney James Hammer. (The last woman to prosecute murderers was Murlene Randle, who is now co-chief of the criminal division.) Ross comes to the office from Fulton County, Ga. — which includes Atlanta. In the past four years, she tried 15 murders and won 14 convictions. “San Francisco is a great city that I’ve been fascinated with, and it was a good opportunity,” she said. Ross arrives with a reputation as a hard-driving and clever prosecutor. In June, for example, she won a life term for an ex-cop convicted of killing his wife. “We sent him to the police academy and made him a better killer,” she said. When the accused was initially questioned about his missing wife, he began to cry, Ross recalled, so when she questioned him on the witness stand, she asked: “Did you cry when you killed your wife?” Hammer likes to tell the story about Ross and a top San Francisco homicide cop who were recently having coffee and a conversation. “She asked him what kind of gun he carried,” Hammer said. “Then she asked him how many rounds it held.” “[The cop] said, ‘I’m not sure,’” Hammer recalled. “She replied, ’14, right?’” Her first homicide assignment will be a domestic violence case where a husband allegedly killed his wife with a shotgun. — Dennis J. Opatrny DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO During a recent trial, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Leopoldo Dorado heard a familiar plea from two potential jurors: My boss won’t pay me if I have to sit through a three-month trial. Both women, as it turned out, worked for law firms. Dorado, the county prosecutor and defense attorneys were in the midst of questioning jurors for the “Riders” criminal trial in which three fired Oakland police officers are accused of misconduct. So far, attorneys on the case have filtered through 680 potential jurors. Between 120 and 180 prospects will be individually questioned by attorneys and the judge. A jury will be selected on Aug. 15 and opening arguments are scheduled to begin Sept. 4. A federal civil suit, in which more than 100 plaintiffs allege that ex-officers from criminal cases and other cops violated their rights, is set to go to trial in 2003. The criminal trial is likely to be a long one � and that’s what has potential jurors pleading for mercy. One of the potential jurors for the criminal trial worked at a five-attorney employment law firm. The firm � in a letter Dorado read in court — said it is so small that losing one support staff member would be a severe burden. The firm, however, was willing to talk to the judge if the worker must serve, the letter said. Dorado agreed that the company was too small and excused the woman. But a few minutes later, another prospective juror trotted out a similar excuse — this time from San Francisco’s 25-attorney Leland, Parachini, Steinberg, Matzger & Melnick. Leland, Parachini will only pay employees for two weeks of jury duty, said the woman, a firm office worker. Dorado huddled with the prosecutor and defense attorneys, and then — reluctantly — let her go. “If this were a shorter trial,” the judge said, “I’d be on the phone with your office.” — Jahna Berry OH, WELL A catch-all appeal to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on the part of convicted Nigerian heroin smuggler Pius Ailemen didn’t catch anything at all. With an unpublished opinion, a three-judge panel dismissed Ailemen’s claims that information from an illegal wiretap was used to convict him, that his defense counsel were ineffective (in part, because they fought constantly with each other), that the judge was biased, and that he was the victim of a government frame-up. The Ailemen case was notable around the Northern District for the vehemence with which Ailemen’s two court-appointed attorneys often disagreed, and the ire then-new U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer showed toward them. In fact, Breyer ended up recommending the pair for disciplinary review. “Even if the attorneys violated rules of professional conduct, their conduct did not preclude effective representation of their client,” the unsigned opinion reads. “If anything, the district court’s letter shows that the attorneys were over-zealous in their representation.” As for Breyer’s inquiries of witnesses and clashes with defense lawyers, the panel said those were fine, too. “The record reveals that the judge’s sua sponte objections were appropriate, his comments during testimony corrected misstatements of law or evidence, and his denial of defense requests for continuances were well within his discretion.” Like Ailemen’s appeal, nothing ever came of the disciplinary action. — Jason Hoppin

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