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Private sector lawyers are joining forces with the San Francisco city attorney’s office to defend the city’s move last week to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Following the directive of Mayor Gavin Newsom, the city started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and conducting their ceremonies on Thursday. Under the spotlight of the national media, hundreds of couples lined up Friday at City Hall to obtain marriage licenses, as lawyers across the street in San Francisco Superior Court began debating the validity of the marriages. A hearing in one of two challenges to the marriage licenses took place Friday in San Francisco Superior Court; both cases will be back in court today. City Attorney Dennis Herrera tapped Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart and at least three deputies from his government team to pitch in. Pending a standard conflicts check, Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin has agreed to do some pro bono work.
NEWLYWEDS: Joseph Asperin and David Bowik leave City Hall after being married Friday. Image: Jason Doiy / The Recorder

“The work that firm has done on gay discrimination goes back to the early 1980s,” said Stewart, who was a partner at the San Francisco-based Howard, Rice from 1988 until Herrera hired her in 2002. Howard, Rice litigation partner Bobbie Wilson will lead the firm’s team. “I don’t like to see discrimination in any form, against anyone,” said Wilson, a commercial litigator who sits on the boards of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “As an African-American woman, I’m particularly cognizant of that issue.” Wilson said her team would include litigation partner Amy Margolin, plus yet-to-be-chosen associates. Margolin’s commercial litigation practice focuses on civil appellate litigation in state and federal courts. Three nonprofit groups say they will try to defend the marriages on behalf of potential interveners: The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Lamba Legal Defense and Education Fund. Those groups, which regularly delve into sexual orientation discrimination battles, already represent at least four couples who want to join the effort as defendant interveners, said Kate Kendell, executive director of the NCLR. Herrera and Stewart appeared in court Friday with Tamara Lange, a staff attorney with ACLU of Northern California; and Steefel, Levitt & Weiss partner Clyde Wadsworth is making at least initial pro bono appearances for the nonprofit groups. Wadsworth, who specializes in complex business and securities litigation, has worked with the ACLU and NCLR for years, he said.

Deputy Marriage Commissioner Jim Illig marries Renee Potter, left, and Hattie Olson of Poway on Friday. Image: Jason Doiy / The Recorder

Howard, Rice, and the three nonprofits also lent the city attorney a hand when companies sued San Francisco over a 1997 city law that required all city contractors to provide employees’ domestic partners the same benefits given to employee spouses. While Stewart and Herrera appeared in court Friday for the city, at least three deputies have been pitching in behind the scenes so far, including Wayne Snodgrass, Scott Dickey and Sherri Sokeland Kaiser, said spokeswoman Alexis Truchan. Burlingame trial lawyer Joseph Cotchett, the Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy partner active in state Democratic politics, is also offering his pro bono services to the city, he said Friday. “I just hung up the phone with the mayor, who’s asked me to get involved.” In the two court cases, San Francisco will face off against two out-of-state legal organizations. The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund is representing the Proposition 22 Legal Defense & Education Fund, of which state Sen. William “Pete” Knight is president. Robert Tyler, head of the Alliance Defense Fund’s California office, and affiliate attorney Terry Thompson, an Alamo solo, appeared in court Friday. In a separate challenge, Florida-based Liberty Counsel and Richard Ackerman of Lively & Ackerman in Temecula are representing the Campaign for California Families along with Randy Thomasson, that group’s founder and executive director, Thomasson said Friday. Mathew Staver, Liberty Counsel’s president and general counsel, vowed Thursday to fight the city to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. “We’ll take it as far as we need to,” he said. Hearings in both cases are scheduled for today, the parties said, before Judge James Warren. “The issues here are going to be very hotly contested and vigorously litigated,” Warren predicted in court Friday.

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