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SACRAMENTO � Ask just about anyone about the effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis and the likely response is a long string of ifs. If the recall qualifies and there’s still no budget, could the courts face more cuts? If Democrats enter the race, whom will the plaintiffs bar support? If another Democrat decides to run, will Attorney General Bill Lockyer enter the fray? The Recall Gray Davis Committee needs to collect 897,158 signatures by Sept. 2 to trigger a recall — though the group is aiming to have the signatures collected by Friday to increase the chances of getting on a fall ballot. As of Monday, the group said it had turned in 764,617 signatures to counties, which then have to validate them and report to the secretary of state. For the legal community, the recall effort is a dynamic affair that defies easy predictions. As everyone from trial lawyers to the Administrative Office of the Courts watch the campaign to unseat the governor, trying to figure out what will be the impact on their interests involves a lot of wait-and-see. “There are just so many things that could happen,” said Bruce Brusavich, president of Consumer Attorneys of California. “I’ve been through a lot of campaigns and a lot of initiatives. Anything can happen and we will continue to monitor it.” Brusavich’s group has thrown its support behind Davis, vowing to back him to the bitter end. At its June 7 meeting, members of the Consumer Attorneys’ governing board unanimously voted to back the governor and pledged to raise $250,000 from its members to put toward the anti-recall campaign. Brusavich, the group’s president, said someone like U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, a key financial backer of the recall campaign and a possible gubernatorial candidate if Davis is recalled, is too conservative for California. So far, only two well-known California plaintiffs attorneys have written big checks for Davis. Joseph Cotchett, of Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy, donated $25,000 to Taxpayers Against the Recall, and Frederick Schenk, of San Diego’s Casey, Gerry, Reed & Schenk, gave $10,000 to Davis’ campaign committee, according to secretary of state records. Schenk is the brother of Davis Chief of Staff Lynn Schenk. An out-of-state plaintiffs lawyer, Jonathan David of Texas, also gave $10,000 to the taxpayers anti-recall group. Brusavich said he expected some of the $250,000 eventually would be used to pay for legal challenges to the signatures gathered in the pro-recall drive. The money could also go to television and radio advertisements and poll watching, he added. What about taking advantage of the recall to get a more liberal Democrat in office? “[Davis] has been more progressive than people give him credit for,” said Brusavich, citing Davis’ record on consumer, minority and gay rights. Asked if he could foresee a development that would cause the Consumer Attorneys to withdraw their support, Brusavich said: “I’m not going to be oblivious to what goes on. I think I’ll just respond accordingly and make appropriate recommendations to our board.” John Sullivan, president of the tort reform Civil Justice Association of California, said he thinks it’s possible that the plaintiffs bar could respond to the recall threat by becoming more aggressive in the Legislature and try to jam through bills in case a less friendly governor takes charge. But Brusavich said that wouldn’t happen. “I’ve got a lot on my plate this year. I just can’t see hurrying up and packing in some other stuff,” he said. JUDICIAL MANUEVERS Besides Davis’ stance on social issues, the plaintiffs bar also likes the governor’s judicial appointments — particularly the fact that a good number of the judges are former trial lawyers. Although not an issue in the recall, some lawyers see a way judicial nominations could become part of the debate: if Davis makes a last-minute round of appointments just before a recall election. But Dan Schnur, a Republican consultant, said Davis could have a problem if he acts on the issue too early. A string of last-minute appointments before a recall might turn more voters against the governor. And if he loses, Davis won’t have the chance to do what his old boss, former Gov. Jerry Brown, did when he left office in 1983 — make a round of appointments in the hours prior to the new governor taking office. That’s because if Davis loses, he’s out of office immediately — with no lame-duck period and no chance to put his appointees on the bench. But judicial appointments are the least of the concerns for court administrators. Although reluctant to discuss politics, some admit to being worried about what could happen to the judiciary’s budget, which has already taken heavy hits under what court leaders consider to be a friendly administration. Chief Justice Ronald George declined to be interviewed, saying that the recall is not only a political matter, but also that legal challenges could come before the courts. But in the past he and other judicial leaders have spoken positively about budget negotiations with Davis’ office. When George became chief in 1996 he immediately set out to create good relationships inside the Capitol. George needed all the help he could get in Sacramento to implement unification, state trial court funding and other innovations, especially after the bad blood between politicians and George’s predecessor, Malcolm Lucas, over Lucas’ 1991 ruling upholding term limits. Now, courts Administrative Director William Vickrey said he hopes that it doesn’t matter who is in office when it comes to making sure the courts are properly funded. “I would hope that commitment to justice is not a partisan issue,” he said. But the parties have had different approaches when it comes to funding for the judicial branch. At one point in this year’s budget wrangling, Republicans proposed cutting another 7 to 10 percent out of the judiciary’s budget on top of the cuts Davis had already proposed. The GOP plan seems dead for now, but if a Republican takes office and a budget is still up in the air, it could make for some uncomfortable moments for the judiciary. “If something happens of major proportions that unhorses the budget, it could have dire consequences” for the courts, said Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Richard Huffman, a seven-year Judicial Council member who has worked on the courts’ budget. WATCHING LOCKYER Judges, of course, aren’t the only elected officials watching the recall. Attorney General Lockyer’s political future may be in the balance. The career politician — and likely candidate for governor in 2006 — said he will not run as a possible Davis replacement if a recall qualifies for the ballot. When he first made that announcement, Lockyer, like nearly every big-name California Democrat, seemed to leave himself an out that would still allow him to enter the race. By saying it wasn’t his “intention” to run, Lockyer kept alive speculation that his plans could change. But recently, Lockyer strengthened his resolve, and said “nothing” could happen that would convince him to run in the recall. “We were all lost in this fog of tactical analysis, a swirl of dozens of possible permutations of outcomes,” Lockyer said of his and other Democrats’ decisions. “A different question is, ‘what’s the right thing to do?’ You quickly decide it’s an abuse of process, and we shouldn’t participate.” Once one party uses recall, there’s a chance that the tactic becomes commonplace, and that risks turning California politics into a Hatfield and McCoy feud that would be “so devastating to policy-making and risk-taking among politicians,” Lockyer said. By refusing to participate, the Democrats are trying to portray the recall as a right-wing power grab. But Tony Quinn, a political analyst who co-edits the nonpartisan California Target Book, said he doesn’t think that strategy is going to hold. “You’ve got to look at who’s going to vote,” said Quinn, who also worked for Attorney General Evelle Younger in the 1970s. He said a recall election, especially one held in the fall when there’s no other statewide elections, likely will only attract the same, dependable, small core of voters who come out for primaries and special elections. Those voters are generally more conservative — and thus, are bad news for Democrats, Quinn said. Quinn said that if one of the top-tier Democrats decides to break ranks and get on the ballot, others in the party — including Lockyer — could be tempted to follow. The Democrats “have got to provide a reason for [their backers] to come out,” Quinn said. “I don’t see them coming out to save Davis.” .

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