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Mounting lawsuits and a “charged” atmosphere have forced a panel of legal experts to call off its probe of a police clash with anti-war protesters at the Port of Oakland. Police fired beanbags, dowels, rubber bullets and other projectiles at protesters during the April 7 incident. Police officials say demonstrators threw things at them, but protesters say they were nonviolent. Nearly 50 plaintiffs have filed civil rights suits alleging they were injured. City Attorney John Russo and former City Manager Robert Bobb created the panel in June to address concerns raised by the community and city council members about the police actions. The groups agreed to work free of charge, and the report was due for release in September. According to a press release issued late Thursday, both time constraints and the “highly charged atmosphere of mounting litigation against the city” prompted the group to disband. “The sheer number of plaintiffs and attorneys involved, � the continuing threat of further litigation and our panel’s desire to hear from all interested persons would so constrain our investigation that any report that we might ultimately produce would be of little, if any, value,” said the panel chairwoman, retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell, in the statement. Russo was out of the office Thursday. “Although I am certainly disappointed with their decision,” he said in the press release, “the legal landscape has indeed become significantly more complex since they initially volunteered to serve. “I sincerely wish the situation could have been different,” the statement continued. One member of the plaintiffs’ legal team said his camp was eager to cooperate, but logistics and politics got in the way. Among other things, the panel grappled with scheduling witnesses, whether their testimony would be confidential and whether the police would testify, said Oakland attorney John Burris. On top of that, there’s political tension between the city attorney, the new city manager and Mayor Jerry Brown, he said. “If the political issues were not front and center, the logistical problems could have been worked out,” Burris said. The loss of the panel may be a “blessing in disguise,” Burris added, because the probe undermined an existing citizen review board that handles such incidents. Perhaps, now, that group will be able to do its job, Burris said. Kimon Manolius, a Hanson, Bridgett, Marcus, Vlahos & Rudy partner who was general counsel to the panel, downplayed the political aspect. He said the time constraints were more of a concern than politics. The five-member panel was packed with legal luminaries. Cordell was the first black person to serve on the Santa Clara County Superior Court. Alice Lytle was the first black woman on the Sacramento County Superior Court. Retired First District Court of Appeal Justice Jerome Smith, San Francisco attorney Dale Minami and Washington, D.C., Assistant Police Chief Brian Jordan rounded out the panel.

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