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LEGAL COMMUNITY PROVIDES HAVEN FROM COUNTY’S HIGH FEES Reporters covering the Scott Peterson murder trial swooned with sticker shock when San Mateo County officials planned to charge TV networks $51,000 a month to park outside the courthouse. Several press crews scurried into the arms of nearby law firms, which are offering cut-rate parking and office space. By the time the county wised up and slashed the $51,000 fee, ABC, KGO-TV, CBS, Fox, Univision and KPIX had moved to the Redwood Law Center, which is “150 strides” from the courthouse, said civil attorney James Thompson. Thompson was trying to fill empty office space when the Peterson case �� and the national media throng �� descended on Redwood City. Thompson wouldn’t say what he was charging, but said it’s less than the county. Now the Law Center’s roof is filled with broadcast equipment, and one of the center’s criminal defense attorneys, Dean Johnson, has been interviewed on TV about the Peterson case, Thompson said. “There’s no more parking spaces left,” laughed Thompson. “But for the right price, I’ll take the bus to work.” Meanwhile, the Los Angles Times and The New York Times have inquired about using parking and office space at Redwood City’s Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley, said senior partner Richard Williams. Parking in one of the firm’s 200 spaces costs about $200 a month, or about $8 a day, he said. And while the county wants newspaper reporters to pay $582 a month for utilities, Internet access and janitorial services, Williams said that renting Ropers’ office space — two blocks from the courthouse — is cheaper. He wouldn’t say by how much. “I feel that we are trying to provide a service,” Williams said. “We aren’t trying to make a fast buck.” — Jahna Berry SPECIAL DELIVERY FROM THE E-MAIL MAN Memo to the San Francisco district attorney’s office: Welcome to the Internet revolution. For the first time, all of the DA’s employees are going to get a city e-mail account, said DA spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh. The process to get everyone in the office an sfgov.org e-mail address is under way, and may be completed within a month, she said. “No law firm in town could operate without e-mail,” Mesloh said. “We are pulling the office into the 21st century.” While some attorneys in the office have city e-mail accounts now, others must use their personal Yahoo or Hotmail accounts for work communications, and others don’t use e-mail at all. “When we notify each other of things, we’re still photocopying things and putting it in mailboxes,” Mesloh said. “We’re excited to be able to communicate internally, through electronic means.” New District Attorney Kamala Harris derided the office’s technology, or lack thereof, during her campaign last year, while incumbent Terence Hallinan blamed it on the aging Hall of Justice. Harris’ office still has a way to go before it catches up to the modern age, though: Some prosecutors are still sharing computers. Mesloh said Harris hopes to change that, too. — Pam Smith LAWMAKER TARGETS OBESITY SUITS Assemblyman John Dutra likes a hamburger every now and then — no bun, though, per his Atkins diet — and he thinks it’s ridiculous that anyone would take their own fast food habits to court. The Fremont Democrat has introduced a bill that would grant immunity to restaurants and other food providers from so-called obesity lawsuits — protecting fast food chains over suits claiming they foster health problems. “I don’t think you’re going to solve the obesity problem, which is very complex, through frivolous lawsuits,” Dutra said. Dutra said the bill, AB 1909, is similar to legislation that has already been introduced in Louisiana and in Congress. The bill wouldn’t give immunity for unfair advertising or other wrongdoing. Even so, George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf, a pioneer of both tobacco and obesity litigation, said Dutra’s measure is “awfully premature.” So far, courts have thrown out the few cases that have been filed, and the threat of more suits has prompted fast-food chains to market salads and other low-fat choices, Banzhaf said. He also said that no suits have been filed in California. “Why aren’t legislators doing what they’re supposed to do to stop obesity, instead of killing the one thing that’s gotten fast food restaurants [to act]?” Banzhaf said. But Dutra called Banzhaf’s reasoning dangerous. “What he is saying is that by allowing frivolous lawsuits, some good could come. � That just makes no sense to me,” Dutra said. “The point is you should be held responsible for your own acts.” Although he’s heard some restaurant owners complain that their general liability insurance is going up because of the expectation of suits, the assemblyman said he drafted the bill of his own volition — no interest groups asked him to float it. Consumer Attorneys of California said it was evaluating the measure and as yet had no position. — Jeff Chorney WHAT A LONG, STRANGE TRIP IT’S BEEN On the last day of 2001, Douglas Irwin reached a settlement with Grateful Dead Productions Inc. that gave him the famous “Tiger” guitar he had made for now-deceased lead singer Jerry Garcia. He sold the instrument for $850,000 to an anonymous bidder at an auction the following May. Nevertheless, the case has proceeded through Marin County Superior Court and San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal on the issue of whether the guitar was GDP’s property to give away or belonged to the Garcia estate — which didn’t really want it anyway because of tax implications. Both courts found by a preponderance of the evidence that GDP was the proper owner. Which raises the question: Why were these rulings necessary when Irwin had petitioned to drop his suit once he reached a settlement? “We realized how ridiculous it was and said we don’t want this hearing,” Irwin’s lawyer, William Romaine, a partner at Visalia’s Advocates Long & Romaine, said Friday. “But the superior court said we had to have this hearing, and then the appeal court said we had to have this hearing.” In a Feb. 6 unpublished ruling, the appeal court said that even though the “Tiger” guitar was given to Irwin in exchange for dropping claims to two other Garcia guitars — “Rosebud” and “Headless” — the settlement stipulated that a hearing would still be held to determine ownership. “Irwin could not simply avoid this aspect of the stipulation by dismissing his petition,” Justice J. Anthony Kline wrote. Justices Paul Haerle and Ignazio Ruvolo concurred. The ruling is Irwin v. Grateful Dead Productions Inc., A099413. — Mike McKee

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