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COURT OKS SUIT ON PRISONER PAY ISSUE A state appeal court ruled Monday that a taxpayer can sue the state to force officials to comply with a ballot measure that lets private companies pay inmates to work for them. The suit was filed by Christina Vasquez, the international vice president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees, to force the state to crack down on CMT Blues for allegedly not paying prevailing wages for work done by inmates at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility near San Diego. CMT Blues, which manufactures clothing at the prison, entered into a joint venture with the Department of Corrections, as allowed by Proposition 139, which was passed by voters in 1990. The state, which had not compelled CMT to keep its end of the bargain, contended that Vasquez had no grounds for a taxpayer action. But San Diego’s Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed, saying Vasquez had every right to sue. “Contrary to the state’s view, it cannot sit idly by while CMT Blues violates Proposition 139 and the express terms of the joint venture agreement,” Justice Judith McConnell wrote. “The state has means of obtaining CMT Blues’ compliance, or of ejecting it from the joint venture program absent compliance.” Justices Patricia Benke and Gilbert Nares concurred. A portion of the money inmates receive through the program goes toward the costs of incarceration, as well as restitution and to their families. The case is Vasquez v. State of California , 02 C.D.O.S. 846. — Mike McKee PUC LAWYER JOINS DEPT. OF INSURANCE Gary Cohen, the head lawyer of the nation’s largest state public utilities regulator, is stepping down to take a job as general counsel of the California Department of Insurance. The move comes less than two years after Cohen joined the California Public Utilities Commission, and a few weeks after Gov. Gray Davis appointed Michael Peevey as the new president of the commission. The former president, Loretta Lynch, and Cohen both practiced at San Francisco litigation boutique Keker & Van Nest for several years. Cohen said his decision was unrelated to the change in management at the CPUC. Cohen’s tenure at the CPUC was dominated by the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Under Cohen’s direction, the CPUC legal team has taken an active role in the case, opposing various PG&E proposals in federal bankruptcy court and even submitting its own rival reorganization plan for the energy company. The PUC stressed that Cohen’s departure does not signal a shift in the commission’s strategy in the PG&E case. “We are committed to obtaining approval of our plan, to returning PG&E to financial health, and to defeating PG&E’s plan to break up the company. Gary will continue to work with our outside bankruptcy counsel to accomplish those goals,” said Peevey in a statement. Cohen said the exact date of his move to the Department of Insurance is not set and that he’ll remain directly involved in the PG&E plan confirmation trial currently under way. — Alexei Oreskovic FOUR LEAVE LEBOEUF FOR SONNENSCHEIN Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal’s San Francisco office has lured four partners from LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. The four lateral hires — Kenneth Schnoll, Thomas McDonald, John Finston and Sanford Kingsley — all focus on insurance regulatory and transactional matters, as well as administrative litigation. The foursome will work in the insurance group at Sonnenschein’s 67-attorney San Francisco office. “It adds breadth to our client base, it adds breadth to our expertise and it brings in four really terrific lawyers,” said San Francisco Managing Partner Paul Glad. Glad said the group was attracted by Sonnenschein’s position in California, as well as its national insurance practice, which boasts several former state insurance officials. Gary Hernandez, the head of the firm’s insurance regulatory practice, is the former deputy insurance commissioner of California. Among the new partners, Schnoll concentrates on insurance regulatory and managed care law, McDonald focuses on business regulatory law with an emphasis on the insurance and workers’ compensation industries, Finston specializes in insurance and reinsurance transactions, and Kingsley represents financial institutions and insurance companies in class action litigation. — Alexei Oreskovic ONLINE ACCESS FOR DEATH PENALTY APPEALS The California Supreme Court announced Monday that attorneys wanting to handle death penalty appeals, habeas corpus matters or clemency proceedings can now apply on line. The application is at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/ dpenalty.htm. “Interested counsel may download the application form, complete it electronically and submit it to the court on line,” the high court said in a statement. “In the alternative, counsel may print out a hard copy of the application form and mail it, with writing samples and a resume, to the court’s automatic appeals monitor.” The court also urged lawyers to contact the appeals monitor at [email protected] jud.ca.gov. — Mike McKee

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