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The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals gave the green light to a long-delayed Union City redevelopment project Thursday, rejecting an appeal by the court-appointed special master who once administered the plan but later threatened to hold it up. In a unanimous ruling significant for defining the rights of special masters and the limits of judges who appoint them, a unanimous panel said Palo Alto attorney Bruce Train must wait until the case is resolved — potentially years — to argue that he is due millions in fees for his work on the development of a former steel mill. The unusual case dates to 1990, when Northern District Chief Judge Marilyn Hall Patel appointed Train to help develop the mill — a Superfund site — as a way of funding former employees’ pensions after the mill closed its doors. But Patel later accused Train of “unmitigated greed” when he submitted proposals that resulted in millions in fees for him and his partners. He was suspended from his role as special master and has since been kicked off the case. Train appealed to the Ninth Circuit, accusing Patel of bias for seeking ex parte advice from outside consultants about Train’s plan. But the Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel refused to tie up the case with Train’s fee fight, and furthermore said judges have a wide berth when monitoring court-appointed officers. “Surely the court should be given broad latitude to determine how to conduct its judicial oversight,” Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote. “Judge Patel wore two hats — one administrative, the other deliberative, but both part of the judicial decision-making process.” She was joined by Judge Richard Paez and Senior Judge Louis Pollak, a district court judge from Pennsylvania, sitting by designation. Train will have to wait several years if he wants to wage another fee fight, according to Charles Reese of Oakland’s Wulfsberg Reese Colvig & Firstman, an attorney for Union City’s redevelopment agency. And, Reese continued, Train shouldn’t take much comfort from the fact that he can still do so at a later date. “A very clear implication in this appeals court decision is that they don’t think very highly of his opinion,” Reese said. When reached at his Palo Alto home, Train declined to comment. Train’s lawyer, Robert Goodin of Goodin, MacBride, Squeri, Ritchie & Day, said Train didn’t know yet whether he would revisit the issue once development of the Union City site goes forward and the case is resolved. But, Goodin said, “There clearly is an avenue open to Bruce.”

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