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LAWYER-SENATOR ACCUSED OF CONFLICT SACRAMENTO — Sen. Joseph Dunn, a partner at the Newport Beach plaintiffs firm Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson, canceled a special budget hearing this week amid accusations he was using his position to set up litigation against Ford Motor Co. Dunn, a Democrat from Orange County, is chair of a budget subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the California Highway Patrol. The subcommittee was scheduled to hold an informational hearing Thursday about the CHP’s use of Ford Crown Victorias. Lawsuits filed on the East Coast allege the car’s fuel tanks can explode in collisions. Ford has come up with a $1,000 fix for the problem. Dunn said his hearing was to make sure CHP officers were safe and to ensure that taxpayers would not have to foot the bill if the state decides to fix the problem. But Sen. Richard Ackerman, a Republican on the same committee, accused Dunn of using the hearing to get “free discovery” to be used in suits by Robinson, Calcagnie, which litigated the famous exploding Ford Pinto case and other auto defect matters. “This appears to be a witch hunt and a trial attorney drill,” Ackerman said. Dunn denied he was trying to help plaintiffs and said the firm has no immediate plans to file anything against Ford. He said Ackerman was just looking for ammunition to use in the state attorney general’s race in 2006, when Dunn plans to run. Ackerman ran against Bill Lockyer in 2002, but has not announced whether he plans to run again. The hearing, which was scheduled to feature testimony from Ford, plaintiffs, officers and others, has been put off until mid-April, when the committee is scheduled to consider the CHP’s budget. In the meantime, Dunn said he will ask the legislative counsel’s office to determine if there is even the appearance of a conflict. If so, Dunn said he would consider shifting the matter to a different committee. – Jeff Chorney RECRUITERS OPENING SILICON VALLEY OFFICE The legal recruiting firm Watanabe Nason & Seltzer is opening an office in Redwood Shores today. Marnia Brownell, who co-founded recruiting firm Solutus Legal Search three years ago, was hired by Watanabe Nason to establish the one-person office. Based in San Diego, the firm of seven recruiters has additional offices in Orange County, San Diego and San Francisco. “We’ve done a lot of work in Silicon Valley and thought it was important to have someone on the ground there,” said Watanabe Nason principal Lawrence Watanabe. Watanabe Nason places partners and practice groups for at least two dozen firms. “This was a natural transition for me,” Brownell said. “I’ve been interested in doing partner placements and higher searches, and Watanabe Nason has the market tapped.” Brownell was an associate at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati from 1994 to 1997 and then had a stint as in-house counsel for medical device company Vivus Inc. before joining Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison as an associate in 1998. She subsequently joined recruiting firm Major, Hagen & Africa and then broke away with fellow recruiters W. Jon Escher and Julie Qureshi Brush to form Palo Alto-based Solutus. – Brenda Sandburg

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