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OCEAN-GOING ATTORNEY CAN’T KEEP CASE AFLOAT After joining the Marin Yacht Club in San Rafael in 1981, now-retired lawyer John Ford registered several complaints over the years. His complaints eventually escalated in litigation, and now Ford, a maritime and aviation lawyer for 40 years, finds himself owing the club more than $26,000 in attorneys fees. Whether it was problems with the harbor’s depth, noise in the dining room or damage to the yacht “Pirate” he kept in one of the club’s 46-foot berths, Ford didn’t hold back on voicing his thoughts. But when the Greenbrae resident actually filed suit in 1998, claiming breach of contract for the club’s failure to provide liability insurance for his benefit, the board of directors had enough. They voted to expel him, describing his suit as an escalation of a “past pattern of verbal or written confrontation” against fellow club members, and ordered him to move his yacht elsewhere. On Dec. 30, San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal, in an unpublished ruling, upheld the club’s decision, as well as a trial court ruling ordering Ford to pay his former club $26,385 in attorneys fees. “Objectively viewed,” Justice Timothy Reardon wrote for the court, “the result in this case was a resounding, if not complete, victory for the Yacht Club on both the contract and non-contract causes of action.” Justices Patricia Sepulveda and Maria Rivera concurred. The appellate ruling upholds the decision of Marin County Superior Court Judge Vernon Smith. The judge had found that Ford had received proper notice about the charges against him and a reasonable opportunity to respond. Smith also said Ford had been expelled for the totality of his conduct — not only because he had filed suit — and that the suit itself was not prosecuted “wholly in good faith.” Ford, a founder and first-elected commodore of the Sausalito Yacht Club and a member of the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco’s Marina District, could not be reached for comment. But the appellate court raised questions about his arguments, saying he used a “scattershot approach to briefing” that made it hard to decide the issues. “It is relatively clear that he believes there were no proper grounds for his expulsion, and that he was expelled merely for pursuing this lawsuit,” Reardon wrote. “He also appears to be arguing that, notwithstanding his expulsion, he should be allowed to continue to use his berth at the club for an indefinite period of time.” The court flatly rejected the latter argument, saying it “simply defies belief” that Ford could believe that expelled members would retain their berth rights. The case is Ford v. The Marin Yacht Club Inc., A097397. — Mike McKee THOSE PESKY BILLS Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison has been hit with a breach of contract suit over alleged nonpayment of a $30,000 bill. Management Practices Group Inc. claims Brobeck hired the company to help its client United Airlines Corp. in an employee race discrimination suit. In a Nov. 27 complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court against UAL and Brobeck, the consulting company seeks payment for its work plus interest and attorneys fees. John Pachtner, Brobeck’s director of communications, said “because [the complaint] is related to the bankruptcy of our client UAL it would not be appropriate for us to comment.” Management Practices attorney Carla Minnard, of Walnut Creek’s Sher & Minnard, said Brobeck filed a response last week stating that UAL is responsible for the bill. But D. Jan Duffy, the head of Management Practices, said the contract with Brobeck specifies that the signatory to the agreement — in this case Brobeck partner Brendan Dolan — is responsible for paying the invoice. Duffy said that provision is in every Management Practices contract because firms who hire her company want to control the litigation. Duffy doesn’t generally deal directly with clients. Duffy said that Brobeck attorneys never called her to question the bill but sent a letter attacking the quality and quantity of her work. “I was just appalled,” Duffy said. “I’ve never, ever had a law firm fail to take responsibility.” Duffy said the firm has not returned her calls or those of her lawyer. Brobeck hired Management Practices for consulting and expert witness services in May. Duffy said she spent two weeks evaluating UAL’s policies and procedures and the appropriateness of its actions and then submitted a report and prepared for trial testimony. While Duffy’s relations with Brobeck soured, the opposing counsel in the UAL case was apparently impressed with her work: Duffy said they hired her to help with a different case the next month. – Brenda Sandburg WORKPLACE WINNERS When Fortune Magazine‘s annual list of the country’s 100 Best Companies to Work For was posted on its Web site last week, lawyers took notice. Alston & Bird, an Atlanta-based firm, ranked No. 3, the best showing any law firm has ever had on the list, which purports to rate the workplaces with the top perks, benefits and quality of life. But attorneys in the Bay Area, whose firms have traditionally dominated the compendium, were not crowing this year. Missing in action were Fenwick & West, Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison and McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen. Just last year, the Bay Area trio had ranked 14, 78 and 54 respectively. Moreover, they accounted for three of the four law firms on the list. Has the rough economic climate finally taken a toll on these firms’ once-vaunted quality of life? Perhaps, but that’s not necessarily why they fell off the list. According to Milton Moskowitz, a co-author of the Best Companies to Work For list, the minimum number of employees for eligibility this year was raised from 500 to 1,000. That automatically disqualified Fenwick & West, which counts a little more than 500 attorneys and staff members. Brobeck, whose ranks have been cut nearly in half over the past two years through layoffs, buyouts and defections, still counts nearly 1,100 attorneys and staff members. But spokesman John Pachtner said the firm decided not to apply this year because of the intensive application process. “In light of all the challenges that we faced we really needed to focus on other things.” Meanwhile, McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, which merged with Boston’s Bingham Dana in July, now has more than 800 attorneys and 1,000 staff members, more than enough to meet the new headcount regulations. But the firm now known as Bingham McCutchen was ineligible because of another rule disqualifying companies that have been through a merger in the past year. — Alexei Oreskovic PRO BONO MENTOR Peter Huang has made a name for himself at McDermott, Will & Emery by doing pro bono work. So when the Chicago-based McDermott needed a Silicon Valley representative for its national pro bono initiative targeting children, the firm tapped Huang. The fourth-year associate is the go-to lawyer in McDermott’s Palo Alto office for the firm’s 3-week-old, nationwide pro bono program, MW&E: Kids First. “It’s nice to feel you’re giving back to the community you live in,” Huang said. “It gives you a different perspective on things.” As the Palo Alto coordinator for McDermott’s new initiative, Huang will work with a Santa Clara-based program that helps parents and trains advocates to represent the educational interests of children with special needs. The program, Project YEA!, which stands for Youth Educational Alternatives, is backed by the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors and supported by a collection of family service agencies. “We told them we have lawyers who are interested in doing work for them,” said Huang, who has signed on three other associates committed to taking on at least one case helping children get access to special education. “It’s rewarding,” Huang said, adding, “It’s part of your professional obligation.” – Renee Deger

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