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FOR TORT REFORMERS, BAY AREA NOW OFFICIALLY A ‘HELLHOLE’ San Francisco might be paradise for some, but judicially it’s just been lumped with Los Angeles and Alameda County as “hellholes.” In a 26-page report, the Washington, D.C.-based American Tort Reform Association listed all three among 13 “judicial hellholes” nationwide — hellholes being cities, counties or judicial districts that allegedly attract suits from around the nation because of a plaintiff-friendly reputation. “The motto etched on the fa�ade of the United States Supreme Court, ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’ is forgotten in these areas,” the report states. The areas listed — mostly in Texas or southern states — were identified by participants in a survey of the tort reform group’s members. And to be entirely accurate, San Francisco and Alameda were labeled as “Some Say ‘Yes,’ Some Say ‘No’” judicial hellholes. San Francisco was criticized as a place where “being judged by a jury of one’s peers is given lip service at best.” About 10 percent of summoned jurors, the report states, fail to appear, with another 13 percent being excused for medical reasons. Alameda was faulted for former Superior Court Judge Michael Ballachey’s 2000 decision ordering Ford Motor Co. to recall 1.8 million cars. “The judge’s ruling was the first time a recall had ever been ordered by a state court judge,” the report said. The association says it’s not trying to obtain “a special advantage” for defendants, but simply “believes that by placing a spotlight on the litigation abuses that occur in hellholes, the public and the media can persuade the courts in hellholes to apply the law fairly to all litigants.” — Mike McKee NO WHINE BEFORE IT’S TIME The advent of e-filing has brought a dramatic change in the way clerks handle court filings, and it’s inevitable that somehow it would become an issue in the cases themselves. But this is ridiculous. In a case against Microsoft Corp. in the Western District of Washington, attorneys for Hyperphase Technologies — nine of them, as U.S. Magistrate Stephen Crocker pointed out — asked that a summary judgment motion be dismissed because it was filed at 12:04:27 a.m., a whole 4 minutes and 27 seconds after the deadline. “I don’t know this personally because I was home sleeping, but that’s what the court’s computer program says, so I’ll accept it as true,” Crocker wrote in denying the request. “Counsel used bold italics to make their point, a clear sign of grievous iniquity by one’s foe. True, this court did enter an order on June 20, 2003, ordering the parties not to flyspeck each other, but how could such an order apply to a motion filed almost five minutes late?” To demonstrate his own “even-handedness and magnanimity,” Crocker did allow Hyperphase to file a future motion an entire 4 minutes and 30 seconds late before deciding “to move on to other Gordian problems confronting this court.” – Jason Hoppin KRAFT NEXT IN CANDY-CHOKING SUITS O’Reilly, Collins & Danko may have scored big when courts awarded nearly $75 million in damages and settlements in a pair of wrongful death suits against a Taiwanese candy maker. The San Mateo firm’s lawyers admit it could be hard to collect from Taiwan-based Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co, which failed to show up for its most recent trial, in San Mateo County Superior Court. But the defendants in their next candy choking trial, set to start Monday before Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jamie Jacobs-May,are sure to show. Terry O’Reilly is bringing a strict liability action against Kraft Foods Inc. after a 1-year-old San Jose boy choked on the company’s “gummy burger” and fell into a vegetative state. Cameron Pokarney choked on the candy, which O’Reilly says breaks into three coin-shaped pieces. The candy lodged in the tyke’s throat. Kraft pulled the product off the market shortly after Pokarney choked, O’Reilly said. Kraft’s product didn’t contain the sticky binding agent that Sheng Hsiang’s Lychee Flavor Mini Gel Snack does, but O’Reilly said the gummy burger’s shape makes it lethal. While Sheng Hsiang — the defendant in O’Reilly’s first two choking suits — refused to sit for depositions in the San Mateo case, leading to a $50 million default award, Kraft has hired Shook, Hardy & Bacon. Partner Joan Haratani did not return a call for comment. In May, a Santa Clara County jury awarded the Enrile family $16.7 million for the death of its 12-year-old daughter, who choked on the Lychee snack. The retailer and distributor settled out of the suit for $8 million. Sheng Hsiang was represented by Frank Revere with L.A.’s Revere & Wallace. — Shannon Lafferty �C�MO SE DICE ‘COURTS’? The Judicial Council’s popular self-help Web site will soon be available en espa�ol. On Monday, the council will launch www.sucorte.ca.gov, a translation of all 900 pages of the English self-help site, which is located at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp. Court administrators have been planning the translation since the English version launched two years ago. Users can find information about small claims, traffic court and domestic violence, and even download some forms. The Spanish translation is part of a broader effort to make the courts more accessible. Already, some forms on the self-help site are available in Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese, and San Francisco, Fresno and Ventura counties have self-help centers where non-English speakers can get free help. Earlier this year, the English self-help site was revised because it was too “clunky” and lawyerly, said Bonnie Hough, supervising attorney for the Administrative Office of the Courts Center for Families. The revise put much of the content into plainer English, Hough said. To get the Spanish, the AOC used a translation service and then checked the work with a copy editor, attorney and computer coder, all of whom are bilingual, Hough said. The effort cost $120,000 in outside help. Hough said she especially likes that the sites will be tied together with a little button on the English side marked “ Espa�ol.” That will allow people familiar with the English version to quickly find something in Spanish, she said. “My hope is that it will be very helpful for courts and community members who are trying to help people,” Hough said. Jeff Chorney VAN VOORHIS WAIVED CLAIM, COMMISSION SAYS It was a typo. That may be one way to sum up the Commission on Judicial Performance’s response to a judge who claims he was unfairly booted from the Contra Costa County bench in February. The commission voted to end Judge Bruce Van Voorhis’ judicial career because he repeatedly lashed out at jurors, court staff and attorneys. In his petition to the California Supreme Court, Van Voorhis’ attorney, James Murphy, argued that the judicial watchdog violated its own rules when commissioners failed to attend Van Voorhis’ evidentiary hearing. Commission attorney Jack Coyle seemed to acknowledge the requirement, set out in Rule 134, but argued that it was mistakenly left on the books and was fixed this year. Commissioners have never attended such hearings, even when other judges were removed from the bench, he pointed out. And Van Voorhis waived the issue by failing to object earlier, Coyle said in the commission’s July 7 response to the petition. “The commission has never interpreted former rule 134 to require that its members be present at the evidentiary hearing,” Coyle wrote. “There is no evidence that any commissioner was present at any special masters’ hearing that took place subsequent to Dec. 1, 1996, and that resulted in discipline.” If the Supreme Court sides with the commission, Van Voorhis’ removal will become final. — Jahna Berry SFO SUIT BREAKS HOLDING PATTERN After months of wrangling, City Attorney Dennis Herrera got funding last week for an 8-month-old civil suit that accuses general contractor Tutor-Saliba Corp. of bilking San Francisco out of tens of millions of dollars. Herrera and the Board of Supervisors have repeatedly butted heads with Mayor Willie Brown and the Airport Commission over whether to pursue the litigation. But the commissioners gave way last week, at least for the time being. With a 4-1 vote, they signed off on $4 million to $5 million worth of funding, said Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the city attorney’s office. That will pay for legal work that’s been performed already, but not reimbursed, and keep the suit going through the end of June 2004, he said. “We were pleased with the vote,” Dorsey said. The federal suit, City & County of San Francisco v. Tutor-Saliba Corporation, 02-5286, accuses Tutor-Saliba and its joint venture partners of filing bogus change orders, as well as false claims under a local minority business law, while working on an airport expansion project. The city attorney’s office estimates the entire legal fight will cost the city $6.5 million to $7.5 million over three years. — Pam Smith

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