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In April 2001, Douglas Woods was ready to do something different. After working at Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro for eight years — most recently, as a part-time senior attorney — Woods took a pay cut and became a deputy in the state attorney general’s office, where he hoped to find work that was a little more engaging than the hectic corporate practice. This week, Woods’ desire was rewarded in spades as he stood center stage in the biggest political battle to hit a courtroom since Bush v. Gore. Woods defended the secretary of state during oral arguments in front of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Southwest Voter Registration Education Project v. Shelley, 03-56498. “By far, [it's] the most important . . . thing that I’ve ever done and I’m betting that I ever will do,” said Woods, 36. That remains to be seen. Elections experts are predicting more lawsuits could follow the Oct. 7 election, especially if the vote is close and someone demands a recount. AG Bill Lockyer could call on Woods again if the issues in Bush v. Gore, hanging chads and the like, are alleged to be a problem in the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. Woods works in the AG’s government law section. He picked up the Ninth Circuit case, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, because he had previously worked on a state consent decree, due to go into effect in 2004, that will outlaw punch card voting machines. He is part of the team of lawyers that has defended the state against the 20 or so challenges to the Oct. 7 election that were filed in state and federal court. Although the recall workload was large and unexpected, Woods said his team didn’t have to pull any all-nighters while preparing for the Ninth Circuit. “Nobody’s staying up past midnight on this case,” he said. The worst time crunch, Woods said, came with an earlier recall challenge, Davis v. Shelley, S117921, when the governor himself asked the state Supreme Court to delay the election based on claims similar to the ACLU’s. State justices set a tight briefing schedule. Though outsiders might imagine a frantic scene around the AG’s office during the recall — papers flying everywhere, stacks of take-out food containers, people yelling at each other — Woods said the reality is a lot less interesting. “You get a project in front of you,” he said. “You sort out responsibility, and at that point everybody’s got to do their own thing.” Special Assistant Attorney General Louis Mauro, who is in charge of the government law section, said the office tried to pace itself for the inundation of litigation. “We got hit in a very short period of time. Everybody knew this was historic and this really mattered to California voters,” Mauro said. After they were done with their part of a brief, attorneys were allowed to recuperate, Mauro said. Woods said he had the hardest time sleeping Monday night, after he argued at the Ninth Circuit. Too wound up, he said. He had a good excuse. Besides going head to head with the 11 en banc judges — including Alex Kozinski, who has a reputation for picking on deputy attorneys general — Woods had to contend with two ACLU attorneys, plus an intervenor who was angry about not getting enough time to argue. On top of all that, the arguments were televised live, and Lockyer sat in the audience. “It all goes into the big picture of how calm you can remain. If you’re not calm, then the thoughts aren’t clear,” Woods said. Once he started arguing, Woods said much of the tension went away because he was able to focus on the task at hand. As for which made him more nervous, Lockyer or the TV cameras, Woods wouldn’t say. Either way, the boss is happy now. Woods did mention another review of his performance, one that he’ll probably remember longer than any pat on the back from his boss. “My [7-year-old] daughter said, ‘My daddy sounds good on TV,’” Woods said. “I think that was probably the best response I got.”

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