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Even though he recently retired and is battling Parkinson’s disease, Jerrold Ladar is still in high demand. A few weeks ago, he sat in his Vallejo Street house fielding a seemingly endless series of phone calls from friends and colleagues tapping him for advice on navigating the federal courts. “Every time I think things are quiet, the phone starts ringing,” he said. “One day last week it started at 7 a.m. and seven or eight calls came in by mid-afternoon.” These are tough times for the 69-year-old Ladar and his wife and law partner, Joyce. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a decade ago, but the symptoms seem to be worsening. In fact, after the interview at his home, Ladar entered the hospital and is currently undergoing treatment for the disease. Still, since his retirement from active practice last year, Ladar has managed to maintain his status as a go-to guy for the insider scoop on the federal courts. He spent four decades working cases in the San Francisco federal courts as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, and he’s well known for an engaging style that endeared him to his colleagues. “He’s a symbol of the federal courts,” said John Bartko, who worked as an assistant U.S. attorney under Ladar in the 1960s. “If you ever have a problem with some arcane question, Jerry has the answer. He’s the World Wide Web of what has happened in the court in the last 100 years.” In the past year, Ladar’s colleagues have been publicly recognizing his contributions to the courts. A few weeks ago a group of attorneys gave him an honorary Department of Justice badge for his years of service in the federal courts. And a who’s who of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys honored Ladar at a luncheon in San Francisco in April. At the luncheon, Ladar’s friend Robert Bunzel — a partner at Bartko, Zankel, Tarrant & Miller — played a string of voice-mail messages he’d received from Ladar in the past 10 years. Speaking in an accent and pretending to be a reporter or some other character, Ladar riffed on current events and joked about political candidates. “Jerry’s grace is really that he never takes himself seriously, though he has handled serious cases,” Bunzel said. “He transcended that by adding humor and almost diversion to the process, having rigid prosecutors see that his client’s situation was tragic or comic.” THEATER TRAINING Ladar developed a stage presence as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, where he got a degree in drama. He had initially planned to become an actor, but after looking at the theater scene in New York, Ladar said he decided he didn’t have enough talent. He chose the legal stage instead. He got a degree from Boalt Hall School of Law and then clerked for retired federal Judge Albert Wollenberg Sr. He then served for 10 years as a prosecutor in the San Francisco U.S. attorney’s office under Cecil Poole, heading the office’s criminal division from 1968 to 1971. “Jerry was the most energetic, provocative, enthusiastic prosecutor to ever cross the face of the planet,” said Bartko, also a partner at Bartko, Zankel. “He brought such a zeal to his work it was almost like watching Shakespeare in the court room.” In those days, Bartko said, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI had a very close relationship, and when the FBI went out to investigate a crime, “Jerry would be right on the car seat next to them.” Ladar said his tenure in the U.S. attorney’s office was the best job he ever had. “There was a feeling you accomplished something, particularly in the 1960s,” Ladar said. “You covered a piece of history.” During the civil rights struggles of the era, Ladar said he and fellow Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Hatter Jr. — who is now a Los Angeles federal judge — served as a liaison to local churches, civil rights organizations and businesses. The Department of Justice under U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark requested U.S. attorneys in major cities to make connections with relevant groups and submit weekly reports to Washington, D.C. After leaving the U.S. attorney’s office in 1971, Ladar spent two years working with renowned trial lawyer James Martin MacInnis before starting his own criminal defense practice. Ladar had a hand in some of San Francisco’s highest-profile cases. They ran the gamut from defending an alleged spy to helping Bartko in his defense of Imelda Marcos, the wife of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, who was indicted — and acquitted — for RICO violations. “He’s one of the few defense lawyers I would have lunch with,” said Charles “Ben” Burch, chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office. “I had a great deal of admiration for him and his ability to represent clients in a smart way.” Bernard Knapp, a former partner of Ladar’s who is now deputy county counsel of Contra Costa County, said he wouldn’t be practicing law today if it weren’t for Ladar. While Knapp was serving as a volunteer extern at the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, a writ by Ladar came across his desk that impressed him so much he told his colleagues that he’d like to work for the author. Years later he joined Ladar as an associate and later became a partner. Knapp said they decided to dissolve the partnership in 1997. “Jerry found it difficult to have a partner,” Knapp said. “He’s so good and so experienced, the hardest thing for Jerry, I think, is to subordinate his own judgment about a case to someone else.” A PERFECT MATCH But Ladar was apparently able to find a perfect match — his wife and law partner, Joyce. Married since 1956, the two began practicing law together 22 years ago. After a career as a social worker, Joyce graduated from the University of San Francisco School of Law at age 43. She had a stint in the San Francisco district attorney’s office before joining her husband’s practice. “Joyce tends to be more businesslike, no nonsense, cover all bases, detail-oriented,” Burch said. “Jerry is more of an idea man, a concept guy who creatively thinks of new ways to look at legal problems or issues.” The lively dynamic between them was apparent during a recent interview when they recounted some of their most memorable cases. In their first case together they representing a Vietnam veteran who had been found guilty of first-degree murder. After winning the right to a new trial, the Ladars used a post-traumatic stress disorder defense, one of the first times such a defense was used in a murder case. Their strategy proved successful, as the second jury found their client guilty of manslaughter. “They were a magnificent partnership,” said retired Justice Gary Strankman, who oversaw the case in Contra Costa County Superior Court. “They were like two football players who’ve played on the field together for a long time. They knew where the other would be on the field.” They also represented Art Byrd, who strangled a prostitute in his bathtub. Ladar convinced a jury that there was a reasonable doubt that his client intended to murder the woman and argued that Byrd had a period of amnesia immediately after killing the woman. The jury found Byrd guilty of second-degree murder rather than the first-degree conviction the prosecution sought. Their last case together was representing Peter Bradley in 2000, who tried to take over an Alaska Airline flight en route to San Francisco. The Ladars ultimately convinced the judge and prosecutors that Bradley’s behavior was caused by encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. The night Bradley was arrested, the people in his hometown of Blue Springs, Kan., raised money to help him, and within three days the Ladars had received 22 unsolicited letters in support of his character. “In all our joint years of practicing we’ve never had that happen,” Joyce said. “That’s why we knew something was wrong.” The Ladars got Bradley transferred from prison to Stanford Medical Center, where several doctors examined him. With their evaluation, they were able to get Bradley into a diversion program, and the charges against him were subsequently dropped. “Jerry is a master at settling a case,” said Joyce, who retired along with her husband. “He can find a different way of pleading.” Though it’s clear Parkinson’s is having its physical effects, Ladar seemed eager to continue playing a role. He acknowledges it’s not as big as it used to be, but that seems fine by him. “It’s flattering in a sense that people remember you and have confidence in your judgment,” Ladar said. “It’s easier because the pressure is off. . . . After you’ve done as many trials as came out of the 1960s, I would just as soon not run around the courthouse.”

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