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LAWYERS ALWAYS WANT TO BE THE CENTER OF ATTENTION It would be fair to say that Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris feels at home in the limelight. When he’s not handling high-profile cases, Burris is on the tube, doing legal analysis for CNN and other networks. Last week, though, Burris was trying to keep a lower profile in Alameda County Superior Court Judge Leopoldo Dorado’s courtroom. The lawyer is one of the attorneys who represent more than 100 people who’ve alleged that three ex-Oakland police officers who are on trial for misconduct — and other cops — violated their civil rights. Burris wanted to watch some testimony in the criminal case, which will help influence how the federal civil suits pan out. The court was silent as each juror gravely examined an important piece of evidence. That’s when Burris’ cell phone started bleating. Dorado — who didn’t know where the ringing was coming from — asked bailiffs Ronnie Holloway and Sal Davila to confiscate the telephone. The crowd of attorneys and reporters, who were watching the trial, began chuckling while Burris scrambled to silence the phone. Dorado looked up from the bench and saw Burris fumbling with the device. “You,” he said, “should know better.” That ignited a roar of laughter. “Sanctions!” said Michael Rains, a Pleasant Hill attorney who represents one of the officers. Burris joined in the laugh and hustled out of the courtroom. When he returned, the bailiffs and spectators all made a point to jokingly remind him to turn off his cell phone. “It’s off now,” he said with a smile. – Jahna Berry MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING That is 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Schroeder’s assessment of this summer’s spontaneous congressional hearing about a bill that would split the 9th Circuit in two. It was a show trial, Schroeder suggested at last week’s Federal Bar Association luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. “I believe, despite the short notice, that it was full and fair, even though no one could comment on the particular decision of our court that precipitated it,” Shroeder said, alluding to the 9th Circuit decision striking the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. “I do not believe that it was ever intended to move any split legislation along, and the subcommittee chair � who was very gracious, said as much.” The hastily called hearing included three circuit judges: Schroeder and Sidney Thomas (against the split) and Diarmuid O’Scannlain (for it). Also testifying in support was Idaho Attorney General Alan Lance. The bill had languished for more than a year before the hearing was called. The 25th annual lunch was also notable for the attendance of Joe Bertain, the San Francisco lawyer who organized the first meeting of the Federal Bar Association here at the urging of former 9th Circuit Chief Judge Richard Chambers. Bertain said the first meeting was attended by about 50 people. Wednesday’s was attended by about 400. – Jason Hoppin WIN SOME, LOSE SOME For a lawyer, it just doesn’t get any better than this: San Francisco’s Edwin Bradley II stood up for oral argument in the First District Court of Appeal one day last week, only to be quickly advised to sit down and save his comments for rebuttal. The justices had “a lot of questions” about the case, Justice J. Anthony Kline told Bradley, “but not for you.” That had to make Bradley’s opponent, Whitehead, Porter & Gordon partner Terry Gordon, break out in a sweat. But he’s not saying for now. “I gotta tell you I’m really uncomfortable [talking about the case],” he said Thursday. “This is a matter that’s now pending and under submission.” On Wednesday, however, Gordon gamely gave it his all � even in the face of withering questions from Justices Kline, Paul Haerle and Ignazio Ruvolo. And though the justices obviously had difficulties with Gordon’s legal position, they gave the man credit for standing his ground. “Mr. Gordon,” Kline said at one point, “I marvel at the poise you have, because I quite frankly see this case completely differently than you.” “I’m gathering that,” Gordon responded, as a few titters of laughter were heard. Nelson v. Fog City Diner Inc., A095951, is a fairly simple case. Sara Rain Nelson, a hostess at the trendy Mustard’s Grill in Napa, sued for sexual harassment and wrongful termination in 1999. What’s hard to follow, though, is her opponent’s argument that Nelson sued the wrong company. Mustard’s Grill and Fog City Diner used to be owned by Real Restaurants, they say, but Fog City went its own way in the early ’90s, long before Nelson went to work at Mustard’s in 1998. That confused the appellate justices, who noted that Nelson’s W-2 form indicated she was an employee of Real Restaurants, doing business as Mustard’s Grill. Gordon said both Mustard’s and Fog City use the same payroll service, hence the confusion. Even so, the justices seemed to think retired Superior Court Judge William Dunbar should have allowed more testimony, and in particular shouldn’t have excluded testimony by a former manager that might have shed more light on the corporate relationship of the companies. “That’s the question,” Justice Haerle noted. “Are they different clients or are they interrelated?” Kline even said he thought Dunbar’s reasons for granting summary judgment to Fog City Diner in Napa Superior Court were the “thinnest” he’d ever seen. To which Gordon responded defiantly: “But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.” Things didn’t seem much clearer at the end of the argument than at the beginning, but Bradley, a partner in Kerosky & Bradley, gladly accepted his good fortune. “I was surprised. I was very surprised,” he said afterward. “And we’ll just have to see. The justices were asking the right questions.” And he’s just glad he wasn’t on the answering end. – Mike McKee

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