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CORBETT’S SEXUAL HARASSMENT BILL CATCHES THE A-TRAIN Recall opponents weren’t the only ones to get mileage out of a story published in the Los Angeles Times last week regarding candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s alleged propensity to grope women on his movie sets. Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, and chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, also jumped on the anti-Arnold train and used the controversy to urge Gov. Gray Davis to sign her AB 76. The bill, which Davis signed late Friday, dumps a 2002 appellate ruling, Salazar v. Diversified Paratransit Inc., 103 Cal.App.4th 131, and makes employers liable to workers sexually harassed by non-employees. As anti-recallers were slamming Schwarzenegger over the groping allegations, Corbett released a statement saying her bill would protect workers from the kind of behavior described in the Times article. “I urge Gov. Davis to sign this bill now, so that all Californians will be protected from those who believe their powerful positions will somehow make them immune from the law,” Corbett said in a Thursday release. The bill was supported by the Consumer Attorneys of California and opposed by the tort-reform Civil Justice Association of California. The CAOC, which has close ties to Corbett, has been raising thousands of dollars to fight the recall. Although Corbett had indications before the groping controversy that Davis was inclined to sign, she believes her tying the issue to Schwarzenegger cinched the governor’s support. “I believe that it did make a difference,” Corbett said. “I think the response to the Schwarzenegger harassment stories really brought to the forefront � feelings about how people should be treated in the workplace.” Davis’ office said Corbett’s linking the bill to the Schwarzenegger allegations had nothing to do with the governor’s decision to sign. “The governor didn’t have to have an embarrassing situation [for his opponent] for him to think this legislation was good,” said Davis spokesman Russell Lopez. – Jeff Chorney WEB OF LIES The Internet is more like a book than a bathroom wall — or at least it should be, a Sixth District Court of Appeal panel seemed to say last week. About a minute after attorney Jon Eisenberg began arguing for the reversal of a libel judgment and injunction against a pair of clients accused of posting thousands of diatribes on the Web, Justice Franklin Elia shut him down. “The record is replete with extremely offensive, disgusting � obnoxious libel. To come in here to say this is not defamation–” Elia fumed during arguments last week. Eisenberg’s clients, Michelangelo Delfino and Mary Day, were assessed $775,000 in damages in a suit brought by their targets, former bosses at Varian Medical Systems Inc. and Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates Inc. Eisenberg compared the flickering computer screen to the television, arguing that Day and Delfino should have been sued under the doctrine of slander, not libel. He also argued that anonymous Internet postings on a message board didn’t constitute serious discourse with provable statements of fact. “It’s like graffiti on a bathroom wall,” said Eisenberg, a partner at Horvitz & Levy. But the court wasn’t biting. “You can say anything you like, destroy a reputation, because it’s over the computer?” demanded Elia. Even so, the panel pressed Varian attorney Lynne Hermle to explain how the injunction wasn’t an impermissible prior restraint. But Elia made it pretty clear he’d like to rule for the Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner, and against Delfino and Day. “Was there any psychiatric work-up done on the individuals?” he asked. — Shannon Lafferty HERE WE GO AGAIN Attorney General John Ashcroft’s recent memo urging a strong approach to prosecuting crimes has created a stir among the criminal justice community, but it’s not the first time the Justice Department has given similar marching orders. The memo tightens the rules for plea bargains and tells federal prosecutors to charge “the most serious, readily provable offense.” “Just as the sentence a defendant receives should not depend on which particular judge presides over the case, so too the charges a defendant faces should not depend upon the particular prosecutor assigned to handle the case,” Aschroft wrote. The memo references a similar directive from former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh after the Supreme Court upheld the federal sentencing guidelines in 1989. But there was an earlier version, sent out by Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Trott when he was associate attorney general from 1986 to 1988, which then oversaw the criminal division. At the time, the new sentencing guidelines were just coming on line. “We had a new system in place, and we wanted to standardize it,” said Trott, spelling out reasons similar to those given by Ashcroft. Trott summed up the message thusly: “Be serious about what we’re doing, unless there’s reason to do something different.” That memo was reaffirmed by Thornburgh. There are reports that at the time some prosecutors chaffed at charging crimes aggressively. Some now say the Ashcroft memo, like it’s predecessors, will have little overall impact in the final analysis. Is it much ado about nothing? “I think so,” Trott said. — Jason Hoppin PULLING THE WELCOME MAT Father Siegfried Widera, who died leaping from a Mexican balcony in May, won’t be around to face civil and criminal charges of molesting dozens of boys over a 16-year period. But the Wisconsin-based archdiocese that shipped him to Orange County in 1973 without telling anyone he was a convicted pedophile could now face vast liability in California. On Wednesday, Santa Ana’s Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee could be held accountable in California for Widera’s molesting of children from the time he arrived until 1985. The court based its decision on Pavlovich v. Superior Court, 29 Cal.4th 262, a 2002 California Supreme Court ruling that said out-of-state defendants could be subject to California jurisdiction if they engage in intentional conduct they know could be harmful to the state. “Having sent Widera into California knowing he was a convicted child abuser and a pedophile,” Justice Richard Fybel wrote, “the Milwaukee Archdiocese reasonably could expect to be hauled into court in California to answer for the consequences of its actions.” Justices David Sills and William Rylaarsdam concurred. After an Orange County man sued Widera for molestation in 2002, other men in Southern California and Milwaukee came forward. After some criminal charges had been filed, Widera vanished, but was found in Mazatlan, Mexico, in May. As law enforcement officers moved in, however, he killed himself by leaping from his third-floor hotel room. Irvine lawyer Katherine Freberg, who represents men who have sued the archdiocese, said the court’s ruling should let hundreds of plaintiffs proceed with their suits. “The court of appeals here,” she said, “is sending a message that you better not send your pedophile priests here.” Washington and Louisiana have issued similar rulings, the Freberg & Associates lawyer said, but New Mexico ruled the opposite. The case is The Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Superior Court (Paino), 03 C.D.O.S. 8847. — Mike McKee

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