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LITIGATOR WIELDS HIS WEAPONS OUTSIDE COURTROOM Litigator John Worden gets to kick butt — no matter what happens in the courtroom. When he isn’t wrangling with insurance companies for his corporate clients at San Francisco’s Morgenstein & Jubelirer, Worden is a practicing black belt in Kung Fu. What began as a bonding exercise with his 5-year-old daughter has become a way of life for the 38-year-old Worden. He devotes about 20 hours a week to practicing his Kung Fu skills, teaching and mentoring newcomers and other instructors. “It’s the very opposite from my normal life of sitting in conference rooms,” Worden said. He has won national Kung Fu championships and is an expert with a spear, sword, staff and nunchaku, the whirling martial arts weapon. Five years ago, he started teaching and now also helps train other instructors. Worden is also close to Richard Lee, a Grand Master who is well known in Kung Fu circles, and he hopes to carry on many of Lee’s teachings. While he loved Bruce Lee movies as a kid, Worden didn’t study martial arts until he and his daughter signed up for a class at Richard Lee’s East-West Kung Fu in Alamo in 1991. After a few years of taking classes, he was hooked. “It’s really fun to fight,” Worden said. “We do learn how to beat each other up — but we also learn other things.” The deeper lessons Worden explores with his martial arts include discipline and self-motivation. Earning his black belt, he said, was one of the most difficult things he’s done because of the mental and physical demands over so long a period of time. In fact, it took him nine years to graduate to a black belt, compared to just seven to make partner at Morgenstein. “Having succeeded at this, I think there is no one who could be tougher than me at litigating,” Worden said. “I’ve had tougher challenges.” – Renee Deger REMEMBERING ALCATRAZ When six Alcatraz inmates staged a spectacular escape attempt in 1946, a retired East Bay attorney’s father was one of several prison guards taken hostage and shot. Ernest Lageson, who was once a name partner at the Walnut Creek firm now known as Archer Norris, has written his second book about the bloody prison break, “Alcatraz Justice.” Lageson’s first book, “Battle at Alcatraz” details the May 2, 1946, incident, which claimed the life of two guards and three of the would-be escapees. Lageson says that he wrote the books for his father, who survived and later became a Pittsburg school principal but died of cancer before he could pen his own book. “Alcatraz Justice” details the four-week trial of the three surviving convicts, including one who was a diagnosed schizophrenic and was accused of murdering one of the prison guards. Ultimately, all the prisoners were found guilty of first-degree murder, and the jury sentenced two to death. The third, a 19-year-old Choctaw Indian, was given a life sentence. Lageson says that when he researched the case, he was startled to learn there was no transcript made of the closing arguments, something that is unheard of in modern death penalty trials. “At the time, the courts had not recognized the prejudicial error based on what lawyers said at closing arguments,” said Lageson. “The courts today are just more cautious.” – Jahna Berry SENSITIVE TYPES John Grisham may be the master of the legal novel, but his latest work has pricked a nerve in one segment of the attorney population. Plaintiffs attorneys are none too pleased about their depiction in Grisham’s “The King of Torts,” which hit bookstore shelves earlier this month. The book tells the tale of Clay Carter, a former public defender who rakes in millions by unleashing a blizzard of product-liability class actions against large corporations. “I can tell you that indeed there has been a reaction,” says Mary Alexander, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. At the group’s recent convention in Maui, a number of ATLA members grumbled that the book was “unfair” and “ignores the dedication, courage and hard work of class action lawyers who fight for consumers and their rights,” says Alexander. To be sure, Grisham, himself a lawyer, has often painted attorneys of all stripes in an unflattering light. “I think people are saying it’s grossly inaccurate. But of course it is fiction so he doesn’t have to be accurate. His job is to tell a good story and sell books and he’s very good at that,” says Stephen Murphy, a San Francisco plaintiffs attorney and author of “Their Word Is Law,” a collection of interviews with top legal thriller novelists, including Grisham. One group that appears to be relishing every page of “The King of Torts” is O’Melveny & Myers. A recent class action alert, which the firm regularly e-mails to its clients, focused exclusively on the novel and crowed that it “offers an entertaining portrait of our all-too-recognizable adversaries, and some reassurance that we are on the right side of the class action fight.” – Alexei Oreskovic BLIGHT BATTLE Oakland’s Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean is trying to raise some money to help the Oakland city attorney’s band of do-good lawyers. And Erin Brockovich, the law firm researcher whose work became fodder for a movie, will be the main attraction at the fund-raiser. The Neighborhood Law Corps is a year-old program that puts rookie attorneys in Oakland neighborhoods to help residents fight blight and local nuisances. Although the program employs four attorneys and handles 55 blight cases annually, it hopes to grow to 14 attorneys and handle 300 such cases, according to the city attorney’s office. So far, the law corps has successfully forced a problem 24-hour gas station/mini mart to close early to curb illegal activity; it spearheaded an effort to partially demolish and rebuild a blighted property; and it recently swayed a group of store owners to close their stores by midnight and stop selling drug paraphernalia. When the program started, law firms gave to the law corps’ foundation to fund attorney salaries. Wendel, Rosen hopes to spark more interest by hosting the fund-raiser. “These are services that the city could not afford, even before the current budget crisis, but have been a real direct help to residents,” said R. Zachary Wasserman, a Wendel, Rosen partner. The $125-per-person dinner will be held March 28 at the Oakland City Center Marriott. Brockovich, whose investigation of a groundwater water toxin helped prod Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to pay a $333 million settlement to hundreds of Hinkley residents, will be the keynote speaker. For more information, call (510) 622-7524. — Jahna Berry

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