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U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan has tapped C. Don Clay, an Oakland criminal defense and entertainment attorney, to prosecute civil rights and public corruption cases. Clay, who turned down a judgeship to head Ryan’s Special Prosecutions Unit, has had a colorful roster of clients, including professional athletes and East Bay gangsta rap impresarios Too Short and E-40. “I have always been well aware of the importance of the work in the U.S. attorney’s office,” said Clay, who has no experience as a prosecutor but interned in the U.S. attorney’s office and worked for several years with former U.S. Attorney Billy Hunter. As late as last week, Clay said, he had not decided between becoming a state judge or a federal prosecutor. He eventually decided that he would have future opportunities to sit on the bench. “Kevin talked to me many, many months ago,” Clay said. “Kevin can convince me of a lot of things. “Knowing he was committed to making this be the best office in the country, I thought, ‘You know, this might be right,’” Clay said. He said the office will probe for corruption cases throughout the Northern District, and mentioned the so-called “Riders” case now under way against three allegedly rogue Oakland police officers as the type of case he would like to pursue. Clay was given the title of executive assistant, and will have yet-to-be-determined administrative duties. Clay’s position will apparently supplant some of the duties of Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. Haag has received praise in the legal community for her work in civil rights cases. Haag recently won convictions of two former Pelican Bay State Prison guards for violating the civil rights of inmates by setting up beatings inside prison walls. The case depended on the testimony of hardened criminals, yet the jury took little time in returning convictions. Criminal defense attorney Nanci Clarence said that before Haag came along, she would refer potential cases against the police to the U.S. attorney — from perjury to the use of excessive force — and they would often fall on deaf ears. “From [former U.S. Attorney Michael] Yamaguchi on through, I never even got a call back until Melinda took over,” said Clarence, of Clarence & Snell. Ryan said Haag will be stationed in Oakland, and will work, in part, on cases in the U.S. attorney’s Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Unit. The U.S. attorney praised the office’s newest employee. “One of my priorities is for the U.S. attorney’s office to prosecute public corruption cases, and Don Clay brings a wealth of experience to his new job,” Ryan said in a statement. Clay is a graduate of Hastings College of the Law. He externed for former First District Court of Appeal Justice Clinton White and has served on several San Francisco city commissions. In what may be his last criminal defense trial, Clay unsuccessfully defended 51-year-old Ellis Lockett against a 27-year-old rape and murder charge. Clay has not yet had a chance to tell his rap clients that he will now be a federal prosecutor. After E-40 recently sought his help, Clay said he did leave a message for the rapper saying, “We need to talk about a few things.”

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