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SAN JOSE — After the economy tanked, five veteran prosecutors who’d left the Santa Clara district attorney’s office during the boom quietly returned to their old jobs. But what had looked like a soft landing is turning out to be anything but. Junior lawyers — with the apparent backing of the prosecutors’ union — are trying to force District Attorney George Kennedy to give the first pink slips to five private-firm prodigal sons. Kennedy has indicated he intends to retain recent returnees Griffin Bonini, Matthew Braker, David Ezgar, Stephen Lowney and Brian Welch even though it means firing lawyers who were hired before them. “It’s a business decision based on what [junior attorneys] can do,” said Assistant DA Karyn Sinunu, adding that the office researched the issue. “None of those attorneys can go in and try a serious felony or a life case. The business decision is to hold on to more experienced deputies.” But junior attorneys, and even some senior attorneys, say the civil service rules are clear: When you leave, you give up your seniority. “There is obviously tension among the members of the union,” said one junior attorney. “These people left to go to private firms, to make large, six-figure salaries, but when times got tough, they decided to come back. They were able to leave, reap the benefits of high salary, come back and retain seniority.” Tensions escalated when members of the Government Attorneys Association gathered for a meeting in late March. According to lawyers who were there, GAA outside counsel Christopher Platten told attendees that the five returnees would have to go first, adding that he’d already made that clear to the county. Platten, of San Jose’s Wylie, McBride, Jesinger, Platten & Renner, didn’t return a call seeking comment. GAA President and Deputy DA James Shore declined to discuss the meeting or what the union may have told the county, except to say: “We are looking into the procedures and the processes to insure the layoffs proposed by county management are consistent with the merit system rules, the county rules, our contract and our bargaining history.” But the senior attorneys whose jobs are on the line say Shore doesn’t have the authority to make unilateral decisions for the GAA without first consulting membership. “I am very disappointed with the way Jim Shore is conducting business in this matter,” said Ezgar. “It hasn’t been done in an open, out-in-front manner. He’s making decisions that impact other people’s careers without consultation and approval of the group he represents.” Ezgar, a 13-year veteran who left in 2000 for Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich and returned last year, said he is frustrated that the union is taking a position that pits members against each other and keeps everyone in the dark. “I had been led to believe that no opinion had been reached and expressed. When I went to that meeting, to my great surprise and disappointment, an opinion had been reached and unilaterally expressed.” Another lateral, Bonini, exited the DA’s office in 2000 for Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. Bonini, who was rehired in October 2001, said he doesn’t blame the GAA for seeking legal counsel and acknowledges it’s a no-win situation, but said he was surprised to see the union targeting Kennedy. “George Kennedy has done everything he can to assist the attorneys in the office and has been very helpful in securing employment opportunities and pay raises,” Bonini said. “I view the current administration as a strong ally and was surprised we would be taking any action to conflict with their policy decisions.” For now, everyone involved can only hope that when final budget figures come out, Kennedy won’t have to cut anyone at all.

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