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AS STARS FADES, JURISTS WONDER WHERE THEY’LL NOSH Stars, the federal bench’s preeminent dining spot for years, is closing its doors Friday. The longtime haunt of San Francisco’s power brokers will throw one last bash on Saturday. After that, epicures will have to look elsewhere for lunch. The problem is, where? The Civic Center area isn’t exactly a hotbed of cuisine. For years, visitors would have been astonished to find one of the city’s better-known restaurants nestled on a run-down block of Golden Gate Avenue, almost equidistant from the junkies of United Nations Plaza and the transvestite streetwalkers of Polk Street. But there it is, all earth tones and open dining room, a place to talk law, gossip and blow off steam. Who will fill the void? Max’s Opera Plaza? Chevy’s? McDonalds? “God forbid we should have to eat at the California Culinary Academy,” one soon-to-be-former diner said. The popular choices seem to be any of a number of places in Hayes Valley — Hayes Street Grill, for example. Or Absinthe. Those are all a bit of a hike from the federal building, however. Max’s would seem to be the nearby choice. But, as Judge Vaughn Walker said, “It doesn’t have quite the same �lan.” Indeed, Stars had an old-school, clubby feel. Max’s, with its takeout counter at the entrance, stakes its claim as “A Bad Place for a Diet.” It’s not bad . . . It’s just not Stars. “As a matter of fact [First District Court of Appeal] Justice [Paul] Haerle and some others and I are going to dine there Friday,” Walker said, “to have one last meal.” Although critical consensus seemed to be that Stars had declined somewhat in later years, as it approaches its funeral hour nothing but nice things are heard. “My mother-in-law called and said, ‘I’m so sad Stars is closing,’ and that’s how I found out,” said Judge Phyllis Jean Hamilton, who will also be making one last trek across the street this week. “I typically eat lunch at my desk, and I always felt it was such a treat when I went to Stars,” Hamilton said. “I will miss it.” — Jason Hoppin THE LIES THAT BIND A little more than two years ago, a 6-year-old Los Angeles girl identified only as M.D. claimed that her neighbor, James Smith, had sexually molested her. Smith says she was lying. So Smith, who was arrested, booked and jailed, took the unusual step last year of suing the girl for defamation. While Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Frank Jackson let the suit stand, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed, saying state law gives the child and her relatives absolute immunity from suit. “We do so,” the court held, quoting a 1990 appellate ruling, “because we are obligated to honor the determination of the Legislature that protection of one innocent segment of society warrants occasional injury to another.” The Jan. 30 ruling, Smith v. M.D., 03 C.D.O.S. 995, was written by Justice Roger Boren. Justices Michael Nott and Kathryn Doi Todd concurred. According to the opinion, M.D. told her grandmother and parents in November 2000 that Smith had molested her. She told police officers the same thing. But Smith, against whom charges were dismissed, says the girl’s accusations were intentionally false. After Smith filed suit, the girl’s lawyers argued, in part, that she was protected by Civil Code � 47(b), which provides an absolute immunity for any communication in any official proceeding authorized by law. The appeal court agreed, saying the girl’s statements to officers were privileged. The court went further to hold that the privilege also extended to M.D.’s parents and grandmother. “We conclude,” Boren wrote, “that under the facts of this case, where the alleged victim is of tender years, and has communicated an alleged crime to trusted adults, those adults must be considered ‘participants’ in any criminal and/or civil litigation that follows.” — Mike McKee FUMING OVER FUNDING The people who helped reform California’s drug courts now are threatening to sue Gov. Gray Davis over his cost-cutting proposal to shift drug court funding from the state to counties. Representatives from Campaign for New Drug Policies, which managed the campaign for Proposition 36, met with Davis officials last week to voice their displeasure, and they were even unhappier when they left the Capitol. Voters enacted Prop 36 in 2000. The measure requires drug treatment instead of jail time for nonviolent offenders. The law allocates $120 million from the state to pay for treatment and directs the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs to monitor the program. As part of his ax-swinging to reduce the state’s budget deficit, Davis has proposed shifting the burden to counties, which would pay for drug courts with taxes and other revenues. The cut is still not a done deal; Davis’ ideas have yet to go to the Legislature. The drug groups’ lawyer, Jonathan Weissglass of San Francisco’s Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain, said in a letter to Davis: “The whole point … was to provide a guaranteed amount of money for several years. … The absence of a long-term evaluation will completely undermine the ability of elected officials to know what worked and what did not.” In response, Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean pointed out that the governor’s proposed realignment of some state programs to counties is actually an effective way to preserve them. “I think what they are doing is assuming an extremely worst-case scenario,” McLean said. “The whole reason the governor is proposing to shift these programs is to keep them funded at the same level.” — Jeff Chorney

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