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The drive to unseat Gov. Gray Davis means late nights and hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexpected business for the small group of law firms that do political work in California. The final tab isn’t in yet. But committees and candidates already are racking up bills for litigation and campaign advice during a time of year that otherwise might have been ideal for elections lawyers to take a vacation. Republican lawyers, for their part, say they welcome the work and see themselves as protectors of the will of the voters. And although there’s been quibbling about how they’ll be paid for pro-recall litigation –Arnold Schwarzenegger showed his support with a $50,000 check to settle a Pillsbury Winthrop bill — the lawyers seem invigorated by the Oct. 7 election. Democratic lawyers, as might be expected, are less enthused, even if the recall means a ton of unplanned business. “I wish it had never happened. Let’s just leave it at that,” said Robin Johansen of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, which represents the governor. Some of the biggest legal fees in connection with the recall will no doubt be paid by Davis himself. So far this year, Davis’ campaign committee has given the Remcho firm $211,272, according to secretary of state records. Because the cut-off date for expenditure reporting was June 30, it’s hard to know how much of that went to recall matters. Davis had other legal problems before his job was in jeopardy, along with the regular upkeep of a campaign committee. Still, it’s clear that Davis’ legal fees will only grow as the recall plays out. Consider that for the entire 2001-02 election cycle, Davis paid Remcho $371,743. The governor is on track to far exceed that number given his expenditures during the first six months of the year. The campaign records do not yet include the period where Johansen worked on the governor’s 90-page Supreme Court petition challenging the recall. That filing occurred on Aug. 4. Besides Johansen’s petition, which the Supreme Court declined to review along with four other challenges, the governor also has the Remcho firm protecting his interests at the Fair Political Practices Commission. Along with the Remcho firm, Davis has Smith Kaufman of Los Angeles working on his behalf. So far this year, his candidate committee has paid the firm $53,511. By comparison, in the previous election cycle, Davis gave Smith Kaufman $190,389. Davis’ anti-recall committee is using another firm well known in Democratic circles, Sacramento’s Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, which has racked up $46,560 in bills as of June 30. Olson, Hagel also works for the California Democratic Party and represents Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in his try for the governor’s office. On the GOP side, Sacramento’s Bell, McAndrews, Hiltachk & Davidian has been the preferred choice. The firm worked for two of the three committees that pushed the recall, filed papers in connection with the recall lawsuits, and last week was hired to be counsel for Schwarzenegger’s campaign. Bell, McAndrews also represents the California Republican Party. The secretary of state’s numbers show that Bell, McAndrews earned at least $13,000 from the recall committees in the first half of this year. That number, like the amount Davis will owe Remcho, will likely increase dramatically once lawyers sort out all their bills. Asked if his team has had any trouble keeping up, firm partner Charles Bell Jr. sighed and said, “I know there are three partners who are pretty tired right now.” Bell said he had to cancel a vacation when he was pulled off an airplane July 17 to attend a hearing in Los Angeles in one of the early recall challenges, Robins v. Shelley, S117661. Although none of the firms said they had figured recall work into this year’s plans, lawyers on both sides say they’ve come to count on the unexpected. In the past, lulls in political work meant lawyers could make headway on other projects. Vacation time usually came between busy periods, such as the primary and general elections. But it’s not that way anymore. Now, treasurer work, audits, election clean-up, enforcement and litigation keep them busy year-round. “It’s become much less of a cyclical business,” Bell said. “It’s a business where people can call you up [at any time].” Johansen, of the Remcho firm, said she doesn’t even bother planning vacations anymore. She said the best she can hope for is a quick weekend away in Monterey with her husband. Johansen’s five-person team was also tired, especially last week, when it had to keep up with the Supreme Court’s accelerated briefing schedule. One night had Johansen going until 5:30 a.m., and colleague Karen Getman — who joined the firm recently after leaving the FPPC — even brought in an inflatable bed into the office, Johansen said. The high court’s rejection of the petitions doesn’t mean the lawyers are finished, either. Johansen’s team is considering whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and also could get involved with federal suits challenging the recall. Although she couldn’t pinpoint anything her firm might file, Johansen said she also expected suits after voters visit the polls Oct. 7. The bills from Johansen and the other lawyers are paid out of campaign donations. Early on, some of Davis’ biggest supporters, the Consumer Attorneys of California, pledged $250,000 to help cover his legal bills, and the governor has continued raising money throughout the recall. Things haven’t been quite as smooth on the Republican side, as evidenced by a recent dust-up between two of the pro-recall committees that was first reported in The Sacramento Bee. At issue was a letter sent out by the chairman of Recall Gray Davis, former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, asking for money from donors because, “I am not sure how much longer we can fight off these legal and political challenges without immediate help,” according to the letter. Philip Paule, executive director of another committee, Rescue California, said he responded with his own letter to Kaloogian pointing out that Kaloogian’s committee was only actively involved in the first recall case, Recall Gray Davis Committee et al. v. Shelley et al., C044487. Although that petition successfully convinced the Third District Court of Appeal to order the secretary of state to speed up the count of signatures to get the recall on the ballot, Paule believes Kaloogian’s plea for money was misleading. Paule thinks his group should get donor money because it was more active in the state Supreme Court cases and is involved with the federal matters. Sal Russo, adviser to Kaloogian’s group, dismissed Paule’s complaint. “They’re trying to find a reason to exist now that [Rep. Darrell] Issa has pulled out,” he said, referring to the congressman’s funding of the committee before he decided not to run in the race. Russo’s group is represented by Sweeney & Grant of Sacramento. Partner Eric Grant hadn’t heard about the dispute and said it was his firm’s policy not to discuss client billing. Russo didn’t know the total of his group’s legal bills yet, but said it burned through $40,000 in just one month of the recall campaign. Paule’s group is one of Bell, McAndrews’ clients. Paule declined to say exactly how much has been spent on recall litigation but said it was “well into six figures.” Paule’s committee also hired Pillsbury Winthrop to help out. The $50,000 Schwarzenegger gave to the firm will count as a campaign contribution to Rescue California. Schwarzenegger wrote that check Aug. 3, three days before he announced his candidacy on the “Tonight Show,” according to the secretary of state. He also retained Pillsbury Winthrop to represent his personal interests, while Bell, McAndrews represents his committee. Both Paule and Russo said it would be nice if more candidates would pony up to help with fees since they’re riding the committees’ coattails to the election. Although Bell, McAndrews has only received a fraction of what it is owed and Sweeney & Grant has gotten even less, the committees say they’ll have no trouble paying their legal bills. This week, Bell, McAndrews filed an application to intervene in one of the federal cases — another indication that lawyers involved with the recall won’t be going on vacation any time soon. “Basically, we’ve created a full employment act for political consultants, attorneys and journalists,” Paule said.

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