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Eric George, the son of Chief Justice Ronald George and a lawyer known for his behind-the-scenes juice, has organized a troop of big-name lawyers from across the political spectrum to oppose splitting the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The group sent a four-page letter to California’s congressional delegation earlier this week asking representatives to vote down pending legislation — one Senate bill and one in the House — that would break up the circuit. Besides Eric George, the letter was signed by 15 defense, business and plaintiffs lawyers, including Ronald Olson of Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles; State Bar President Anthony Capozzi of Fresno; Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Jerome Braun of Farella Braun & Martel; and John Keker of Keker & Van Nest. “The position we urge is one of those rare ones that has joined together — regardless of political affiliation — a substantial majority of those lawyers, judges and elected officials who call themselves Californians,” according to the letter, which also claims support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Govs. Gray Davis and Pete Wilson. George, a Republican and a partner at Browne & Woods in Beverly Hills, said that he worked with Olson, a Democrat, to find a “broad and diverse array” of lawyers. “I was glad to work with Olson [and Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary] Schroeder to contact California’s congressional delegation,” George said. Besides his familial connection, George is well-known in California politics, mostly for his quiet work on behalf of Republicans. He served as Gov. Wilson’s deputy legal affairs secretary and currently helps vet federal judicial appointees for Gerald Parsky, one of President Bush’s main advisers in California. Bipartisan selection committees have been established in each of California’s four federal judicial districts. Although George was rumored to be a potential candidate for Schwarzenegger’s judicial appointments secretary, sources said he apparently does not want to leave private practice to take the job. George was also counsel for two years to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which will likely have input into any legislation to split the Ninth Circuit. In the past, George’s old boss, Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, has supported legislation to split the circuit. One currently pending bill, sponsored by Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, would split the Ninth Circuit in two. Another, sponsored by Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign, would split the circuit in three. A judiciary subcommittee held a hearing last week on the latter proposal. Joseph Cotchett of Burlingame’s Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy, said he added his name because he feels very strongly that, although the Ninth Circuit may in fact be too large, the bills introduced this year are politically motivated and weren’t inspired by a genuine desire to help the administration of justice in the western United States. “The conservatives who want to split up the court only want to do so because it’s too liberal,” Cotchett said. But that’s the wrong motivation, Cotchett said, and justice will suffer if Congress approves either pending bill. Backers of a split have denied political motivations and argue that the circuit is simply too large and unwieldy. Although proposals to split the circuit have been floating around for years, Cotchett said this year’s bills are particularly dangerous because their authors hope to bank on the November presidential election to polarize people behind a cause that he says should not pit the left against the right. Those lawyers signing on with their support were not intended to represent the political spectrum, Cotchett said, adding that most of the people who signed probably wouldn’t define themselves as strictly liberal or conservative. Rather, the list includes “a real leadership of the bar � not ideologues,” he said. The other signers are: Thomas Girardi of Girardi and Keese; Raymond Boucher of Kiesel, Boucher & Larson and vice-president of Consumer Attorneys of California; James Brosnahan of Morrison & Foerster; Michael Traynor of Cooley Godward; M. John Carson of Fulbright & Jaworski; Maria Acker of Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich; Charles Dick Jr. of Baker & McKenzie; and Meryl Young of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

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