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A surly and combative Allen Kent bobbed and weaved like a boxer Monday as lawyers for his longtime boss tried to pin him with some responsibility for his former firm’s absence from a February state Supreme Court argument. The 64-year-old litigator’s testimony on the first day of a two-day hearing in State Bar Court earned him a couple of rebukes by Judge JoAnn Remke after he balked at answering some routine questions. “This is pretty basic, Mr. Kent,” Remke said at one point. State Bar prosecutors have gone on record assigning blame for the missed argument to Raul Aguilar, Kent’s former boss of 11 years at Aguilar & Sebastinelli. Kent faced questioning from both prosecutors and a lawyer for Aguilar. Kent, who was on the witness stand for more than three hours, had reason to be cautious. Miranda Kane, representing Aguilar, was trying to prove that Kent had not given anyone at his former firm proper notice about the pending oral argument when he quit five days earlier. During her more than 90-minute cross-examination, Kane, a partner at Rogers Joseph O’Donnell & Phillips, tried to raise doubts about status conference memos Kent had filed. She also insinuated that Kent had paid more attention to two pending March trials than what would have been the small firm’s first argument before the state Supreme Court — and in a case in which Aguilar was the plaintiff. If Kent intended to protect clients, Kane asked, why did he not tell Aguilar to make sure someone was on hand for the hearing, or call the Supreme Court to alert the clerk that he wouldn’t be in attendance? She also wanted to know why he hadn’t dictated a memo for the case file that told the date and time of the argument. The State Bar Court hearing was ordered last month by the Supreme Court, which is considering holding either Kent or Aguilar in contempt for not showing up for the oral argument in Aguilar v. Lerner, S099667, on Feb. 10 in Sacramento. The two men have spent the past couple of months trying to blame the other for the snafu. In records filed with the State Bar Court, Aguilar admits to having been told about the oral argument in January, but says he forgot about it in the wake of Kent’s departure and his attempt to keep the firm afloat after being hit with a $482,000 judgment in a landlord-tenant dispute. Aguilar took some responsibility for the missed argument, but also argues that Kent was the real culprit. Friction between Kent and Kane was apparent immediately on Tuesday, with Kent arguing with Kane over deposition testimony and dodging questions with indirect answers. After Kent, who apparently has a hearing problem, said he had trouble understanding several questions, a perturbed Kane noted that Kent had no trouble responding to State Bar Chief Trial Counsel Mike Nisperos Jr. earlier, and hinted that he was using his hearing loss to his benefit. Much of the cross-examination was similarly contentious, with Kent claiming he couldn’t recall some of his comments at deposition, and Kane at one point telling Kent she didn’t want to argue with him. Some questioning focused on whether the firm’s calendaring system was so inadequate that the Supreme Court case fell through the cracks, or whether Kent just failed to make it clear that the firm had an important upcoming argument. Kent testified that when he departed the firm on Feb. 5 he told two associates — William Henley and Dominic Flamiano — that the case was pending. He also testified that he first told Aguilar about the argument Jan. 15, the day a notice arrived from the Supreme Court. It was memorable, he said, because the date conflicted with another argument the firm had scheduled for the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. Under direct questioning from his own lawyer, San Francisco solo practitioner Philip Ryan, Kent also testified that as of Friday — more than two months after the fiasco in Sacramento — Aguilar & Sebastinelli still lists him as the attorney of record in 26 cases before the Second District. The personal animosity between Kent and Aguilar was evident by Kent’s testimony that during his tenure at the firm, Aguilar had belittled him, shunned him, bullied him and cursed at him. Trying to get at Kent’s attitude when he left the firm, Kane asked if they hadn’t been on good terms the day he quit. “We hadn’t been on good terms for a long time before that,” Kent said. “I had been unhappy with him since before I joined the firm.” Aguilar testified briefly Tuesday and will likely take the stand again today. The heat is on the 62-year-old lawyer because State Bar investigators have taken the position that, as the majority shareholder of the firm, Aguilar is responsible for missing the argument.

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