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QUESTION OF WHO WAS FIRST STIRS COURT WATCHERS Apparently, every Alameda County Superior Court judge has a different opinion about whether a “first” is really a “first.” Last week, the court announced that the bench had elected Hayward-based Judge Barbara Miller as 2004 presiding judge and Robert Freedman as the next assistant presiding judge. An e-mail news release — sent to more than 100 media organizations, county employees and Bay Area officials �� called Miller the “first woman to be elected by her peers � as presiding judge.” The announcement must have puzzled Miller’s fellow Hayward judge Peggy Hora because she fired off an e-mail reply �� to the entire e-mail list �� to set the record straight. “Judge Marie Collins was the first woman PJ in � 1986,” she wrote. The press release apparently didn’t sound quite right to Fremont’s Judge Richard Keller, either. A few minutes later, he chimed in with an e-mail reply to the 100 plus-person e-mail list: “I am even old enough to remember that (but just barely).” Shortly after that, newly elected Miller sent an e-mail to clear the air. “According to court records, Judge Marie Collins was never the presiding judge of the Alameda County Superior Court. (She may have been the PJ of the former Oakland Municipal Court),” wrote Miller, who is currently the assistant presiding judge and the supervising judge in Hayward. “The only woman who previously served as the PJ of the superior court was Cecil Mosbacher in 1960. At that time, the PJ went by rotation from judge to judge. There were no elections,” Miller wrote. — Jahna Berry CASH IN HAND Hoping to stave off an even bigger award, Farideh Jalali’s former employer agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a racial discrimination and sexual harassment claim against one of its managers. “For most people,” an appeal court held last week, “$2.75 million is still real money.” Not for Jalali, who turned around and sued her lawyer, Walter Root III, after her take dropped to $700,000. Jalali wasn’t angry about the attorneys fees that reduced her award, but felt cheated by the government’s $310,000 tax bite. Jalali, a Persian woman living in the city of Orange, blamed Root, a partner at Irvine’s Root & Feinstein, saying he had mistakenly advised that she would be taxed on 40 percent of her share after deducting his contingency fee. However, the government, relying on the alternative minimum tax, correctly taxed Jalali on the entire $2.75 million settlement — a $310,000 sum. While opining that the alternative minimum tax is “tailor-made for a national moot court competition,” Santa Ana’s Fourth District Court of Appeal had little patience for Jalali’s suit against Root, saying the harassment against Jalali — basically her manager’s “crude expressions to others of his obviously unrequited desire for Jalali” — wasn’t that egregious. “Our point,” Justice David Sills wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel on June 9, “is not to minimize Jalali’s discrimination, but to note that in obtaining a large multimillion-dollar settlement — which is money now, not after years of briefs and appellate wrangling — her lawyer had done a very good job for her.” The justices reversed Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kline’s ruling in Jalali’s favor, and said she had not proved she could have ever gotten a better recovery than what Root obtained. Assuming that Jalali wanted at least $1 million after taxes and Root’s fee, the court held, “it would have taken a settlement offer of $3.25 million to induce her to prefer cash to public vindication.” “Well, if that is the price which she put on her own right to a public trial at, then she should have put on evidence that she could have recovered $3.25 million,” Justice Sills wrote. “She didn’t, recognizing that the ‘value’ of her case, as plaintiffs attorneys say, just wasn’t worth that much.” Jalali should have left well enough alone. Not only does she not get the $310,000 back, she now has to pay Root’s costs for the appeal. The case is Jalali v. Root, 03 C.D.O.S. 4959. — Mike McKee MODERN MARVELS In a case alleging securities fraud by a former CEO of Informix Software Inc., Phillip White, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office and defense attorneys at Keker & Van Next were in court last week to try to hammer out a plan for the foreign depositions of three witnesses — two in Japan and one in Monaco. One Japanese witness agreed to make himself available during a two-week window later this month, which didn’t sit well with John Keker and partner Elliot Peters. Besides, Peters argued, he wants White to be there, and White is busy caring for a wife who recently had major surgery. Well how about setting White up through videoconferencing?, asked U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer. That wouldn’t work, Peters replied. He and his clients need to be able to confer, even pass notes back and forth. More ruminating ensued, with the problem dragging on until Breyer struck upon a good idea: Why not set the witness up through videoconferencing? That way, Breyer reasoned, everyone could stay here, and no one could complain about excessive travel. That seemed to end several minutes of haggling — until Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Robbins suggested they first check out the availability of videoconferencing equipment in Japan. “In Japan?” Breyer exclaimed. “They invented it!” Clearly, Breyer was finished with the matter, telling the lawyers to “Go to the Fujitsu factory” if necessary. Incidentally, the Japanese didn’t invent videoconferencing, depending on how you define it. AT&T debuted the first videophone at the 1964 World’s Fair. But if all else fails, the lawyers can always ask the witness for help. He works for IBM Corp. — Jason Hoppin

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