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KOZINSKI’S OK WITH THE AG — AT LEAST THIS TIME The California attorney general’s office has passed up its first chance to ask Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski to recuse himself from a death penalty case. Kozinski drew a seat on this week’s Bittaker v. Woodford, 02-99000, an en banc death penalty case largely procedural in nature. “We don’t anticipate that we will” ask Kozinski to step aside, Chief Deputy Attorney General Peter Siggins said. But that doesn’t mean they won’t ask in the future. “We’re going to take it on a case-by-case basis,” Siggins said. Siggins is the author of a letter to Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder detailing an AG investigation into a death row conference Kozinski had with a convicted murderer. The AG alleges that Kozinski and inmate Michael Hunter discussed cases the judge had ruled on, including one that could come back to the Ninth Circuit. The two struck up a correspondence following a New Yorker article Kozinski wrote about the death penalty, and Kozinski has never ruled on Hunter’s case. In the letter, the AG’s office asked Schroeder whether Kozinski should continue to sit on death penalty appeals pending the court’s own investigation — something it hasn’t done so far. Attorney General Bill Lockyer is now getting a one-two punch from Ninth Circuit judges. Kozinski was critical of the investigation, and now, through a recent editorial, Judge Stephen Reinhardt is demanding an apology from Lockyer. “Law enforcement investigations are best reserved for real offenses. If a federal judge can be subjected to this kind of unwarranted and misguided invasion of privacy, what can ordinary citizens expect?” Reinhardt wrote. “We are . . . contemplating a response. There are certain factual statements that we would take issue with,” Siggins said. One result of the letter could be to remove politics from the controversy. “It takes some of the ideological sting out of it,” said Stephen Wasby, a political science professor at State University of New York, Albany, who follows the Ninth Circuit closely. Reinhardt and Kozinski are ideological opposites on many issues. But Wasby said if the AG’s office is going to take the provocative step of asking for Kozinski’s recusal in death penalty cases, it should put its money where its mouth is. “They can’t pick and choose,” Wasby said. It doesn’t seem like the motion would have gone anywhere, anyway. Schroeder said she doesn’t see any basis for Kozinski’s recusal. — Jason Hoppin BUDGET WORRIES In Contra Costa County, prosecutors and public defenders are in limbo while county leaders wrangle over where the budget ax might fall. The county wants all its departments to trim 10 percent of their general fund income so the county can remedy a $50 million shortfall for the 2003-2004 fiscal year. Public Defender David Coleman said early reports that the office would have to cut as many as 17 positions were premature, but he can’t guarantee whether any of his department’s 122 employees will get pink slips. Three out of four public defender employees are attorneys, and a large percentage of those lawyers are longtime workers. “I would say plans are not solidified,” Coleman said. The budget picture will be clearer as budget negotiations continue over the next few months. Prosecutors are in the same boat. DA Bob Kochly says he will be able to avoid layoffs this fiscal year and will try to “manage” vacant positions to trim his budget further. It’s likely that there will be fewer permanent jobs in the fall for rookie attorneys in the DA office’s contract program. For the past two years, the office has been able to hire all or nearly all of the rookies — typically about five — who want permanent positions at the end of their three-year contact. Kochly wouldn’t estimate how many of those posts would be available this year. “I don’t want to be in a position to not hire anyone from a [contract] class,” he said. — Jahna Berry WHAT BUDGET WORRIES? The Santa Clara Superior Court bench gave its CEO, Kiri Torre, a raise for navigating the court through a tumultuous year that included battling the media, a budget crisis and staff. The court’s executive committee awarded Torre a 3.5 percent “performance raise” in February for her 2002 accomplishments. The 3.5 percent raise, on the heels of a 7.5 percent raise last year, brings Torre’s salary up to $189,145. 2002 was a frenzied year for the Santa Clara courts. Clerks, reporters and research attorneys went on strike for a week, paralyzing court operations in November until administrators agreed to higher wage gains for the court’s 650 employees. The court battled a public access suit against the San Jose Mercury News, which sued in federal court for access to the court’s electronic civil case management database. (The courts agreed to hand over the database in January.) The court also continues to face budget cuts as part of the statewide shortfall. Clerks and other court employees, unhappy with their wage gains, which ranged from 1 percent to 7.4 percent, are grumbling about Torre’s raise. It comes at a time when budget cuts mean employees lose such basic amenities as water coolers. But court spokeswoman Debra Hodges said the raise is in line with other court employees. “This increase is comparable to the 3.5 percent salary increase realized by SEIU [Service Employees International Union] represented employees in 2002 and CEMA [County Employees Management Association] represented employees in 2003,” Hodges wrote in an e-mail. — Shannon Lafferty

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