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BROWN DEFERS JUDGESHIP DREAM FOR PUC STINT Jeff Brown, former San Francisco public defender and cousin of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, has submitted his application to become a trial court judge. But don’t expect to see Brown on the bench in the near future — first he has work to do on the California Public Utilities Commission for Gov. Gray Davis. “The governor said, ‘I know you’d like to be a judge,’” Brown said last week. “I said, ‘I’d like to stay here [on the commission] for a while, because we have major cases that I would like to see completed.’” Brown, 59, resigned as San Francisco’s elected public defender after 22 years in January 2001 to accept an appointment by Davis to the CPUC. Brown became the governor’s political eyes and ears on the rate-setting panel. He told Davis he is willing to remain on the commission until the governor decides to replace him. “He understands that a long time ago I wanted to be a judge,” Brown said, so Davis forwarded his name to the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission. Several lawyers have acknowledged getting letters from the panel asking what they think of him. “Ultimately I feel I have the experience as a trial lawyer. I’ve administered a large law office, and I’ve taught law,” Brown said of his qualifications. Of course, none is as important as his political connection to Davis. There is currently one vacancy on the San Francisco bench. – Dennis J. Opatrny JUST KEEP YOUR HEAD LOW When Steven Zager heard there was a posting on the Greedy Associates message board that he might be leaving Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, he decided to set the record straight. That turned out to be a big mistake. After reading the scathing replies to his posting he remembered “The West Wing” episode in which presidential aide Josh Lyman ignores the advice of his assistant and jumps onto an Internet message board discussion using his own name. Like “The West Wing” character, Zager, a partner in Brobeck’s Austin office and head of the firm’s national litigation group, posted a few more messages before leaving the board to its endless tirades. “The personal attacks were a little bit offensive,” Zager said. “Who wants to be hated by people you don’t know?” Zager said he posted a message on the site to let people know he wasn’t leaving Brobeck and that there were a lot of reasons to stay with the firm. “I am committed to Brobeck, and I have not entertained, nor would I entertain, an offer to leave here nor do I have any intention of starting my own firm,” Zager wrote on the Greedy Associates’ Texas message board Sept. 12. As to the recent departures of other partners from the Texas office, Zager said any notion that they will “somehow cripple our practice and will result in the demise of Brobeck’s Austin office are about as silly as suggesting that Dennis Rodman’s departure from the Lakers ruined their basketball team.” Rodman is a former client of Zager’s. Associates went after Zager like sharks to fresh meat. While most criticized his “spin” on how great Brobeck is doing in Texas, a few were personal. One poster derided Zager’s license plate, XLDOG, and challenged him to a fight . Zager said the license plate, a 40th birthday gift from his wife, refers to a nickname he got playing football in high school. His coach used to say he ran like a big dog, alluding to his slowness as a defensive tackle. “It’s not that I think I’m a big muckety-muck,” Zager said. “I didn’t think someone would take it that way.” While he regrets his foray into the world of message boards, he said he did gain something from the venture. Zager said in his posting that Brobeck is growing in Austin and Dallas and plans to open a Houston office next year and encouraged associates to send him their resumes. He said nine associates did so, and he is interviewing two of them. “Out of every dung heap grows a rose,” Zager said. –Brenda Sandburg NOW KEEP IT NICE, KIDS This year’s incoming Golden Gate University class is the first to benefit from the school’s massive $20 million makeover of its classrooms and main auditorium. The school’s nine new classrooms feature computer-ready tables with electrical outlets and high-speed data jacks with which students can access the Internet. Lorri Ungaretti, the school’s director of marketing and events, said the school’s old classrooms — which were built in 1978 — had poor ventilation, bad acoustics and dim lighting. In addition to the new classrooms, the school’s lecture halls have been totally gutted and replaced. Students used to sit on old chairs with fold-up desks, and professors had very few technological options for giving presentations. Now the students have computer-ready tables with ergonomically designed seats. Lecturers have podiums featuring DVD players, a new public address system and viewing screens. “We’ll be paying for the renovations for many more years to come,” wrote Dean David Oppenheimer in the law school’s new magazine. “But the payoff is beautiful to see and to study and teach in.” – Jason Dearen BACK OFF Each year, countless visitors to Hawaii board the small airplanes and helicopters that provide up-close views of the islands’ spectacular volcanoes and waterfalls. And each year, San Mateo plaintiffs firm O’Reilly, Collins & Danko receives three or four calls to handle cases involving fatal plane crashes on these tours. “They’re extremely dangerous,” said name partner Michael Danko. “They are designed to give the passengers a thrill, and that’s just incompatible with safety.” Danko and colleague Niall Yamane are currently suing Big Island Air on behalf of the families of two passengers who died when their plane slammed into the southeast slope of Mauna Loa mountain in 1999. Last spring, the case took on added significance when a district court judge in Hawaii allowed the firm to sue the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to enforce minimal altitude requirements. “There’s a long line of cases that says the FAA cannot be sued if the basis of the suit is the FAA’s oversight,” Danko said. “We thought that this might be the case to test the longstanding rule against suing the FAA.” Danko contends the FAA abused its oversight function by regularly tipping off local air tour operators about forthcoming government inspections. Despite repeated resident complaints of low-flying aircraft, few pilots were ever punished or fined, said Danko. As a result, dangerous conditions were allowed to continue for years. The case, for unspecified damages, is set to go to trial in March. “This would be the first time of which I’m aware where the families would have recourse against the FAA for failing to exercise in an appropriate fashion its oversight function,” Danko said. – Alexei Oreskovic

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