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WATCH THE VOTE COUNTING OR CATCH A FLICK? NO CONTEST As Contra Costa County’s judicial race barreled to an end, Judge John Sugiyama had no intention of watching the votes trickle into the Martinez elections office Tuesday night. Instead of agonizing over the race, the judge took in a late movie and looked up the results on Wednesday morning. Sugiyama said the movie was a much-needed break after the grueling campaign. “I had just spent the better part of the day in Lamorinda picking up [campaign] signs,” the judge said, referring to the suburban enclaves of Lafayette, Orinda and Moraga. As it turned out, the race wasn’t much of a nail-biter �� the 2002 Gov. Gray Davis appointee beat part-time court commissioner Denise Schmidt by a comfortable margin. He received 68 percent of the vote while Schmidt got 32 percent. So which movie did he see? “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” the Oscar-nominated film about a servant girl who posed for a famous Vermeer painting. The movie is “visually appealing,” the judge said, but the sparse dialogue made moviegoers “do a lot of work.” — Jahna Berry DEATH ROW FIGHT As an intellectual property attorney, William Abrams doesn’t usually find himself trying to help a client get off death row. But last month the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Abrams’ client, inmate Melvin Davis, could file a habeas corpus petition that had been denied by a lower court. It’s the second post-conviction death penalty case that Abrams, an IP partner in Pillsbury Winthrop’s Palo Alto office, has taken on through the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project. The first, which also involves an Alabama inmate, is set to go to trial. “We’re confident that once we have an opportunity to continue the investigation, we will establish that he’s entitled to post-conviction release,” said Abrams. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals had dismissed the petition saying that it was not filed within the statute of limitations. But Abrams successfully argued that the rule changing the statute of limitations for filing a post-conviction petition from two years to one year had not been published and thus did not give attorneys a chance to act in time. Abrams and his colleagues argue that Davis, who was convicted in 1998 of killing two men and attempting to kill a third, did not get effective counsel and that the prosecution suppressed exculpatory evidence. For example, the petition says the state failed to disclose that the sole eyewitness who was not involved in the crime had identified no fewer than 10 suspects before identifying Davis in a photo lineup and later ID’d two other suspects. Abrams, who teaches a death penalty class at Stanford University, said working on these cases is “an overwhelming experience.” His co-counsel, Pillsbury senior associate Nicole Townsend, also said the work is particularly rewarding. “Unlike some other cases I’ve worked on, the clients and families are more appreciative,” she said. “It makes a big difference in their lives.” — Brenda Sandburg BUT WHERE ARE MY KEYS? Reading an opponent’s mind can be helpful in a game of poker or in a knife fight. It doesn’t hurt in employment law either, where wage-and-hour class actions and discrimination cases have high stakes. In hiring new partner Lisa Aguiar, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey has gained some of that rare insight. Aguiar, who joined the firm’s Palo Alto office last month, worked as a plaintiffs attorney for eight years. She crossed over to the defense side and began working for Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel three years ago, having tired of dealing with legally un-savvy, cash-strapped clients. Switching sides is never easy, especially when an attorney is accustomed to suing companies rather than signing them on as clients. But Aguiar says she gradually built up a book of business, doing a lot of counseling and speaking. And her experience advocating on the plaintiffs side is invaluable. “I can predict most times what a plaintiffs attorney is going to argue, what facts they are going to emphasize early on,” says Aguiar. “I did the same thing.” — Alexei Oreskovic CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION Pillsbury Winthrop litigator John Poulos is used to a good fight in construction and other commercial disputes. He recently used those skills on behalf of Sacramento High School, which was facing state sanctions for poor academic performance. Due to the school’s long history of failure, the Sacramento Board of Education voted to close the school. One Sacramento High alumnus, former NBA star Kevin Johnson, jumped in to help. Through his St. HOPE organization, Johnson raised the funds to replace the dying institution with a charter school. But when teachers unions and parents groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the new school from opening, Poulos was needed for the legal fight. “They didn’t believe it was good public policy to, as they saw it, give up on a public school,” Poulos said. “And you can understand that view, but the children needed change.” Poulos agreed to help the pro-charter school group fight the unions and parents in court. After 10 months of legal battles, St. HOPE secured the right to stay at Sacramento High, and the new school has been open since September. Poulos says, “I really do think a free public education is the greatest thing we have.” — Adrienne Sanders

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