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ENDORSING BENCH NOMINEES: IT’S NOTHING BUT TROUBLE Several of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown’s former and current colleagues signed onto a letter in October endorsing her nomination to the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. But fellow California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wasn’t among them. She and Chief Justice Ronald George explained that they had long-established policies of staying neutral and not endorsing anyone. On March 2, 2000, however, Werdegar penned a glowing letter extolling the virtues of Stuart Pollak, a San Francisco Superior Court judge then under consideration for a seat on the First District Court of Appeal. “He is intelligent, thoughtful, fair minded and conscientious,” Werdegar gushed. “He has the mind and temperament for the position, and he has shown himself to be non-partisan and free of bias in his approach to his judicial responsibilities.” With the backing of Werdegar and many others, Pollak joined the appellate bench Jan. 25, 2002. Last week, a slightly chastened Werdegar explained why Pollak got the endorsement that others, including Brown — who has sat next to her on the bench for the past seven years — didn’t. “He’s an old family friend whom I’ve known for 40 years,” she said, “and he performed the marriage ceremony of my son.” No one else has ever gotten such a letter, Werdegar said. “He was an exception,” she said, “which even at the time I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to get me in trouble.’” — Mike McKee SOUTHERN EXPOSURE Follow-up questions sent to California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown in the days after her Oct. 22 confirmation hearing for the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals show that Senate Democrats were just as hostile in writing as they had been in person. Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, the leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted opinions, dissents and speeches “replete with scorn and sarcasm” and repeated rumors that Brown and Chief Justice Ronald George communicate only by memorandum. He openly questioned Brown’s ability to work with others on the D.C. Circuit. Brown responded by saying she has a “productive, cordial and compatible working relationship” with her colleagues and outright denying the reports about any rift with George. She also noted that she had voted with the majority in 75 percent of the Supreme Court’s decisions. “Unattributed rumors of my inability to work well and productively with my colleagues,” she wrote, “are disturbing to me because they are more than greatly exaggerated.” Brown was even more upset with a question about her opposition to affirmative action posed by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., a wealthy plaintiffs lawyer now running for president. Denying his premise that she was biased against workers, the 54-year-old, Alabama-born justice went on to say she got her Social Security card at age 14 and before that worked cotton fields with her grandfather. “I have worked, and worked hard, for more than 40 years,” she wrote. “By the time I was 21, I had experienced numerous acts of bigotry, prejudice and injustice. I know exactly the difficulties women and African-Americans confront in the workplace and in society.” On a lighter note, Leahy, in a question about individual liberties, mistakenly referred to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark June ruling that invalidated states’ sodomy laws as Lawrence v. Kansas. He meant Lawrence v. Texas. In her answer to the question, Brown made the same mistake. — Mike McKee FILLING THE SEATS Gov. Gray Davis’ final push to fill judicial vacancies wasn’t good enough for at least one high-profile Democratic lawyer. Joseph Cotchett is upset the governor left openings in four counties. “Myself and a number of other people were trying to get the Davis administration to fill the slots with qualified, good Democrats, which is tradition when governors leave office,” said Cotchett, of Burlingame’s Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy. Davis came close. In the last week alone, he named about 15 judges, but still left four vacancies: one each in Kern, Merced, San Bernardino and Yuba counties. Cotchett, a huge contributor to Democrats who plans to run for attorney general in 2006, said qualified candidates had been identified for those slots, and he and others were working to get the seats filled right up until the last day Davis was in office. “We just ran out of time,” said Burt Pines, who was Davis’ judicial appointments secretary and is now a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. “A lot of people were disappointed.” — Jeff Chorney LOCALS ONLY Vanity can get in the way once your case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court, said Oakland attorney Gerald Sterns. It’s hard for attorneys to hand off oral arguments to an expert, especially after they toiled on the case in the lower courts, Sterns said. And he should know �� Sterns and his co-counsel Susie Injijian faced such a dilemma when the high court agreed to hear Olympic Airways v. Husain, 02-1348. Sterns represents the family of an asthmatic passenger who died after a flight attendant failed to move his seat from a smoky area of the aircraft. “It’s hard to let go,” said Injijian, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit. A little research made the decision easy. They looked up the last several oral arguments on the same topic that were argued by passengers’ local counsel. “Every single one of them lost,” said Sterns. And the firms who specialize in Supreme Court arguments are willing to do it for a low flat fee, Inijian said. They chose insider H. Bartow Farr III to argue the case Nov. 12. Farr, of Washington D.C.’s Farr & Taranto, is a former clerk of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, worked for the solicitor general’s office and has argued before the high court 24 times. “He knows the territory,” Sterns said. — Jahna Berry

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