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Some cuts averted, but Plummer fears the future During last week’s Alameda County budget hearing, department heads made passionate pleas for more funding so they could avoid layoffs. While District Attorney Tom Orloff and Public Defender Diane Bellas turned to the Bible — Psalms and Matthew — for inspiration, the sheriff took a more earthly approach. “Today we are being raped and I don’t know who to blame,” said Sheriff Charles Plummer, who called the county’s plan to spread cuts among its departments “absurd.” Then Plummer predicted that he’d have to pink-slip 26 workers unless the county gave him $1.8 million in additional funding. Plummer also took several swipes at county judges. Plummer recalled that supervisors asked him to be interim probation chief, but that plan was scuttled after “a few lawyers got involved and a few judges, too.” Plummer was referring to Juvenile Court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte, who issued an order that briefly blocked Plummer’s department from running the juvenile hall �� one of the probation chief’s duties �� because she believed the arrangement risked children’s and families’ rights. Ultimately, Plummer’s assistant sheriff temporarily resigned and was made interim probation chief. In his June 16 speech, Plummer predicted that the state budget crisis will prompt the court to cut his budget to provide courthouse security by $4 million. Plummer warned the court would “get what it pays for,” which means his deputies will clock out at 5 p.m. and the judges will not have personal bailiffs. Plummer also blamed trial court unification, which merged the municipal and superior courts, for making county courts dependent on unreliable state funding. “We elevate mediocre municipal court judges, and we foot the bill,” Plummer said. A few days later, the county adopted a budget that avoided many anticipated layoffs, including those at the sheriff’s department. However, with nearly $70 million of the county’s state funding in limbo, that could change, Plummer said. — Jahna Berry Social conflicts Maybe next time, Oracle Corp. will look to UC-Berkeley for its internal investigators. On June 13, Delaware Chancery Court Vice Chancellor Leo Strine Jr. issued a scathing opinion saying that a two-person investigation team of Stanford professors looking into allegations of insider trading by Oracle board members was far too conflicted for the 1,100-page report to be relied on. “Whether the [special litigation committee] members had precise knowledge of all the facts that have emerged is not essential. What is important is that by any measure this was a social atmosphere painted in too much vivid Stanford Cardinal red for the SLC members to have reasonably ignored it,” Strine wrote. The committee, formed in response to derivative suits filed in Delaware and Redwood City, was paid for by Oracle and staffed by Stanford Law School securities guru Joseph Grundfest and Hector Garcia-Molina, who heads Stanford’s computer science department. They looked into allegations that CEO Larry Ellison and three other board members engaged in insider trading. If the Chancery Court accepted the investigation as independent, the litigation would be foreclosed. Instead, Strine laid open many conflicts in lurid detail. One board member gave $50,000 in stock to Stanford Law School after Grundfest gave a speech to a venture capital firm. It turns out that the board member’s son works at the firm and about half the money was allocated to Grundfest for research. One board member is a professor at Stanford, who taught Grundfest when he was a Ph.D. candidate. Another has a Stanford auditorium named after him. The SLC report disclosed the $50,000 donation, but did not disclose millions donated by board members to the university, including Ellison. Strine goes on to list other ties, including a published report that Ellison will leave his $100 million Woodside estate to Stanford when he dies. (Ellison later recanted his statement.) In failing to mention many of these ties, Strine wrote, “the SLC calls into doubt not only its independence, but its competence.” The SLC issued a statement in response to the ruling, pointing to Strine’s acknowledgement that his conclusions conflict with other decisions and that there was no evidence that Grundfest and Garcia-Molina acted out of anything other than fidelity. “The Special Litigation Committee is disappointed with the decision of the Chancery Court, which it is studying with care,” the statement reads. Paul Geller of Boca Raton, Florida’s Cauley, Geller, Bowman & Rudman, stressed that Strine did not find Grundfest untrustworthy, nor did he question Grundfest’s conclusions. But Strine did rule that the SLC’s independence from the board could not be counted on. “These guys had more ties than Brooks Brothers,” Geller said. He will now press the suit, as they say, toward trial. — Jason Hoppin Sands of time Frances and Anthony Sanchez filed suit against the city of Los Angeles and two of its cops on Jan. 10, 1997, about six months after the officers shot dead their 14-year-old son, Joseph. Five years and one week later, on Jan. 17, 2002, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Parkin was “absolutely dumbfounded” on the verge of trial to discover that the statutorily mandated five-year time limit for trying the case had expired. He dismissed the case 16 days later. Parkin berated the Sanchezes’ lawyer, Gary Casselman, and refused to accept his claim that several delays by parties on both sides, including the unexpected July 7, 2001, suicide of Barry Levin, the lawyer representing police officer Vincent Balderrama, contributed to the failure to get to trial in five years. On Thursday, L.A.’s Second District Court of Appeal affirmed Parkin’s dismissal, and in the process ragged on Casselman even more. “The failure to bring the action to trial within five years was not due to the suicide of Balderrama’s attorney, nor was it due to the four-month period between the date Balderrama’s need for independent counsel arose and Levin’s entry into the case, nor was it due to the 69-day period during which plaintiffs sought writ review of a discovery ruling,” Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote. “Rather, plaintiffs’ failure to bring the action to trial within five years is attributable to their counsel’s lack of diligence in failing to keep apprised of the case’s chronology. “Plaintiffs,” he continued, “simply overlooked the five-year mark.” Justices Patti Kitching and Richard Aldrich concurred. On Friday, Casselman, of L.A., expressed deep regret over the court’s ruling, and said he would like to see it reviewed by the state Supreme Court. The trial court judge and the appellate justices, he said, ignored statutes that toll the five-year trial limit when there are unavoidable delays. It’s like a football game, Casselman said. “You’re on the clock for an hour,” he said. “But if there’s a time out, the clock stops.” Furthermore, Casselman said, he was ready for trial long before January 2002, but events such as officer Balderrama requiring independent counsel after being fired and suing the city and Levin’s suicide — both defense delays — kept pushing a trial date further back. “Basically, they took advantage of the kindness of plaintiffs’ counsel,” he said about his opponents. “This is an example of the old clich� — no good deed goes unpunished.” “I just can’t believe,” he added, “this is the law in California.” — Mike McKee Staying busy It’s a hat trick for Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Leonard Edwards. The dependency judge, who supervises both of Santa Clara’s juvenile delinquency and dependency courts, has received two national awards for his work and is serving as president of a national juvenile judges group. Edwards was recognized in May by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, an international organization dedicated to improving practice in family courts. The judge also received the Roscoe Pound Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a national organization committed to improving practice in the justice system. Edwards was recognized for his leadership and significant commitment to promoting criminal justice reforms. The judge also serves as president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, based in Reno, Nevada. — Shannon Lafferty

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