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PRO BONO CASE HITS CLOSE TO HOME FOR KEKER PARTNER After spending a decade in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, John Tennison’s future looked pretty hopeless. But then Elliot Peters, a partner at Keker & Van Nest, got a strange request from his parking garage attendant, Bruce Tennison. “One day Bruce stopped me and said, ‘I hear you’re a good lawyer. Could I talk to you about my brother?’” Peters recalled. “I said ‘sure.’” After talking to Bruce Tennison and reading material about the case, including a January 2001 San Francisco Bay Guardian article, Peters agreed to represent John Tennison pro bono. Bruce Tennison had been working hard on his brother’s behalf for some time. In fact, when the Bay Guardian piece came out he grabbed a stack of newspapers and left them in the cars of about two dozen lawyers. But while other lawyers expressed interest in the case, Bruce said, Keker & Van Nest was willing to represent John Tennison at no charge. “They said they were going to grab it, and I went home and cried,” Bruce said. “When they picked up the case everything started rolling.” Peters said he couldn’t discuss the case since an amended habeas petition is pending before U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken. But the details of the 1990 killing of Roderick “Cooley” Shannon and evidence that could potentially exonerate Tennison of the crime are outlined in the petition, which was submitted to the court in June 2002. According to the petition, Tennison’s conviction rests on the testimony of two girls, ages 11 and 14 at the time, who said they witnessed the killing. But their account of events sharply conflicts with that of three other witnesses — including a man who confessed to the murder — who say Tennison was not at the scene. The petition also states that San Francisco police investigators handling the case — Napoleon Hendrix and Earl Sanders , currently on leave as police chief — did not inform Tennison or his previous lawyers of information that could have cleared him. Such evidence includes an initial interview with a key witness , who named someone else as the killer. In its response to the petition, the prosecution says the witness did not tell investigators when they interviewed her in 1990 that she was present at the murder scene and that she identified someone as the killer. They say she did so for the first time in 1992 during an interview attended by Tennison’s lawyer at that time, then Deputy Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who is now the public defender. Adachi subsequently resigned from the case due to a conflict, namely that the public defender’s office was representing another man who had confessed to the killing. Peters and his colleagues — partner Ethan Balogh, associates Stacey Wexler and Daniel Purcell and legal assistant Patrick Montgomery — have made some headway since they took the case in January 2001. San Francisco Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero granted their request to subpoena the police records of the investigation. And after the California Supreme Court denied Tennison’s original habeas petition in May 2002 they filed an amended petition. If that petition is granted, Tennison could be re-tried or released. Now 32 years old, Tennison was 18 at the time of his arrest. It wasn’t much of a stretch for Peters to take the case. A former federal prosecutor, he has handled a couple of habeas petitions over the years and serves on the Criminal Justice Act panel in Northern California representing indigent people. Keker & Van Nest also makes a point of taking pro bono cases. The firm devotes 5 percent of its billable hours to pro bono work, which last year totaled $1.7 million. Peters said that cases like Tennison’s are particularly rewarding. “I have never felt more proud as a lawyer than in representing John Tennison, a man wrongly serving a life sentence for murder,” he said. “Pro bono work for someone desperately needing advocacy reconnects me to the nobler reasons that led me to become a lawyer.” — Brenda Sandburg CHEERS FROM THE HOME TEAM For months, a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner has divided the U.S. Senate. Miguel Estrada, President Bush’s nominee for the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has been at the heart of a filibuster now approaching the six-week mark. But while Estrada’s nomination has provoked bitter infighting among the nation’s lawmakers, lawyers at Gibson, Dunn say they’re squarely behind their fellow partner, irrespective of the political overtones that have dominated the matter. “I think everyone who knows Miguel views him as a superior lawyer who on a technical level would make a terrific judge,” says San Francisco real estate partner Fred Pillon. “Regardless of politics, they hope he makes it.” Estrada works in Gibson, Dunn’s 124-attorney Washington, D.C., office. While his fate on the appeals court is stalled in Congress, he continues to practice in the firm’s appellate and constitutional law group. According to attorneys at the firm, Gibson, Dunn has not conducted any inter-firm lobbying on Estrada’s behalf, nor held any event to celebrate his nomination. “In San Francisco among those of us who know him, the discussion isn’t so much whether he should or shouldn’t be confirmed,” says Gibson, Dunn partner Joel Sanders. “It’s more of a personal discussion about, ‘Gee, it’s too bad for Miguel that he’s hung up in this.’” – Alexei Oreskovic DAMAGE CONTROL An 11 percent decline in revenue in 2002 was good news for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. The firm had expected an 18 percent decline when it released preliminary revenue and profits information in December. The firm grossed $387 million in 2002, a modest dip from the $438 million the firm grossed in 2001. Wilson’s fiscal year ends Jan. 31, and the firm released its financial information for last year on Thursday. Wilson may have limited the damage to its bottom line, but the firm was by no means immune to the downturn in the U.S. economy and the technology industries in particular. Per-partner profits took a hit as well. The firm’s 139 partners took home an average of $804,000 in 2002, a 6 percent decline from the previous year. – Renee Deger

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