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SAN FRANCISCO TAKES CABLE CAR OWNER FOR A RIDE Upset that representatives of the city of San Francisco never paid him for sending one of his popular motorized cable cars to China for a goodwill event, 90-year-old Arnold Gridley went to court and got a default judgment of nearly $86,000. But Wednesday, a state appeal court — affirming a San Francisco trial court — threw out the default judgment based on their belief that the defendant, James Fang, vice president of The Examiner, had not responded to Gridley’s suit because he thought he was represented by the city and had been battling brain cancer. “That is sufficient evidence to support the court’s exercise of discretion to allow a trial on the allegations,” Justice James Marchiano wrote for the First District Court of Appeal. Although it’s an unpublished ruling, Cable Car Advertisers Inc. v. Fang, A099661, is a good read, because it has bits of San Francisco that titillate the public — cable cars, Willie Brown, the Aliotos and the Fang family. And it doesn’t leave the city by the bay looking too good. In 1998, city officials contacted Gridley, owner of Cable Car Advertisers Inc., about contracting to send one of his touristy motorized vehicles to Shanghai, China, as part of that city’s “San Francisco Week.” Gridley agreed to a $30,000 down payment and $10,000 for every month the cable car was gone. Trouble is, he never got it in writing, and the vehicle was gone for six months. When Gridley came calling for his money, he claims city officials, including Mayor Willie Brown, blew him off, and even told him that Fang, co-chairman of the San Francisco & Shanghai Sister City Committee, was responsible for the bill. So Gridley sued Fang for unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation and fraud. For his part, court papers say Fang, who was acting as an agent of the city, thought he was being represented by the city attorney’s office. In the meantime, he was undergoing surgery and multiple courses of chemotherapy, some of it in China, and didn’t realize until too late that the city had left him in the lurch. When he sought to have the default judgment lifted, the trial court agreed, which sent Gridley’s attorney, San Francisco solo Lawrence Alioto, running to the appeal court claiming abuse of discretion. The appellate justices were very sympathetic to Fang at their March 5 hearing, and followed through in last week’s ruling. — Mike McKee STAR POWER Attorney General Bill Lockyer usually keeps himself busy battling health care fraud, litigating against energy companies and the like. Last week, he changed pace, injecting himself into a brouhaha in Hollywood over the practices of a fund-raiser and his lawyer and their dealings with Nsync, Rod Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, the cast of “Ally McBeal” and others. Lockyer’s office has filed suit against the fund-raiser, Aaron Tonken; his attorney, Kevin Clarke of the Los Angeles-based Ronin Law Group; the Cynthia Gershman Foundation and others. Tonken and the others named in the suit organized at least six charitable events that were attended by various luminaries and performers who intended to raise money for charities. Instead, Tonken — who has also raised money for the Democratic Party — steered donations toward his own coffers and has not accounted for more than $1.5 million in contributions, according to the complaint. The charitable events included “Family Celebration,” featuring former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; a celebration of Diana Ross; and “Hollywood Gala Salute to Milton Berle.” Clarke could not be reached for comment. Tonken’s attorney, Philip Levy of Newport Beach, did not return a call seeking comment. Lockyer announced the action at an L.A. press conference last week, but the paparazzi left disappointed. None of the stars mentioned in the case put in an appearance. – Jeff Chorney NO APPLE PIE FOR HIM Judge Robert Beezer may have concurred with the core of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals opinion, but he made it clear he wanted no part of the drum-beating patriotic rhetoric that accompanied it. The court ruled Thursday in Brown v. California Department of Transportation, 03 C.D.O.S. 2266, that it’s unconstitutional for the California Department of Transportation to allow U.S. flags on freeway overpasses but forbid other banners containing political messages. Two women sued after Caltrans removed their anti-war banners from Santa Cruz overpasses and didn’t disturb nearby flags. In his concurrence, Beezer painstakingly delineated the individual sentences he couldn’t sign onto — all ones in which Judge Kim Wardlaw invoked Sept. 11, God and country. “I concur in Parts I-IV of the opinion of the court,” Beezer wrote, “except for the first paragraph of Part I, the first sentence of the second paragraph of Part I, the sixth, seventh and eighth sentences of the third paragraph of Part IIIA, and the last four sentences of the second paragraph of Part IIIB.” Indeed, Wardlaw’s writing had a strangely John Philip Sousa ring to it: “Across America, her great national emblem, the United States flag, and its colors, became ubiquitous, appearing everywhere . . . the President of the United States, on September 21, 2001, addressed the nation: ‘The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it and destroy it where it grows.’” Beezer wanted no part of that portion. Wardlaw also branched out into some odd musings: “Flags, particularly in a time of war, could evoke extremely distracting thoughts, including feelings of patriotism, remembrance of past wars and lost loved ones, fear, or impassioned dissent. On the other hand, depending on its content, a message on a homemade banner could evoke no reaction at all.” No again. Nor would he lend his support to Wardlaw’s analysis of the country’s motivation: “Americans sought solace in the symbol of a nation joined in the effort to combat terror in the face of tragedy. Indeed, it is the potency of the flag’s message that makes Caltrans reluctant to remove it from California’s highways.” In her conclusion, Wardlaw was missing only the strains of “The Stars and Stripes Forever”: “In the wake of terror, the message expressed by the flags flying on California’s highways has never held more meaning. America, shielded by her very freedom, can stand strong against regimes that dictate their citizenry’s expression only by embracing her own sustaining liberty.” – Recorder staff

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