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Either Raul Aguilar is a well-intentioned attorney who forgot an oral argument before the state Supreme Court two months ago because his small San Francisco firm was on the verge of financial collapse. Or he is an overbearing liar who intentionally blew off the case after his lead litigator left the firm, and who has a tendency to blame everyone around him for his problems — even Chief Justice Ronald George. Those were the competing images presented in State Bar Court Wednesday, the second day of a two-day hearing aimed at determining whether the 62-year-old Aguilar or his former longtime employee, Allen Kent, 64, should be held in contempt of court. Neither showed for an oral argument in Sacramento in which Kent was listed as the lawyer and Aguilar as the plaintiff. Aguilar remained calm, and almost apologetic, during his testimony Wednesday — unlike Kent, who spent his time on the stand Tuesday verbally jousting with Aguilar’s lawyers. Kent’s lawyer, San Francisco solo practitioner Philip Ryan, again ran afoul of State Bar Court Judge JoAnn Remke on Wednesday, getting shot down all day for asking irrelevant questions, re-reading transcripts already in the record, chatting with Kent loudly enough to be heard over Aguilar’s testimony, and for making several snide asides under his breath. But Aguilar may have taken a hit from William Henley, an associate at Aguilar & Sebastinelli. According to State Bar Chief Trial Counsel Mike Nisperos Jr., Henley testified that after reading about the missed argument in The Recorder, he reminded Aguilar that Henley had told him about the argument a week earlier — the day Kent left the firm — and again the following day. Henley’s testimony could help State Bar prosecutors, who have stated in court papers that Aguilar should be held accountable for the lapse and that he breached his duty to the court. Coincidentally, the Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will issue its ruling in the underlying case � Aguilar v. Lerner, S099667 — today. Aguilar submitted the case on the briefs. Questioned by one of his own lawyers Wednesday, Aguilar said he was preoccupied through most of January with complying with a judge’s order requiring his firm to pay nearly $482,000 in attorneys fees in a dispute with the firm’s landlord. “Every day,” Aguilar told his lawyer, Rogers Joseph O’Donnell & Phillips partner Sean SeLegue, “there was another issue that had to be addressed with the landlord’s attorney.” The firm was close to financial collapse, Aguilar testified, and most other issues — including the Supreme Court argument — were overlooked. But on cross-examination, Kent’s lawyer, Ryan, raised serious doubts about Aguilar’s lack of knowledge about the oral argument. Aguilar denied Kent alerted him to the argument on Jan. 15, but conceded that the firm’s calendaring clerk had made a log entry about it as late as Feb. 3 and that Henley had informed him Feb. 5, the day Kent walked out. In his own pretrial statement, Aguilar admitted the conversations with Henley, but said he did not link them with Aguilar v. Lerner. Kent left his employer of 11 years after being advised in early February that he was going to suffer a $25,000 salary cut. Kent had been lead lawyer on the case in which the firm took the big financial hit, and Aguilar maintained Wednesday that Kent was a changed man afterward. “He wouldn’t say anything,” Aguilar told State Bar Deputy Trial Counsel Sherrie McLetchie. “Mr. Kent was unresponsive to our requests of him regarding cases. We didn’t have any meetings. At this time, he was writing memorandums, not talking to me.” Aguilar said he advised Kent he couldn’t trust his judgments, and would have to reduce his duties as well as his pay. If that were so, Ryan asked Aguilar later, why did he keep Kent on the Supreme Court case — which raised novel legal issues in a fee dispute involving Aguilar’s divorce lawyer? “You expressed a lack of confidence in Mr. Kent’s abilities,” Ryan stated. “Whatever compelled you to think that such a lawyer should argue your case before the highest court in the state?” Aguilar explained that Kent was a good litigator and that the Supreme Court case involved matters that he felt Kent could conduct by rote. In trying to argue that Aguilar likes to blame anyone but himself, Ryan pointed to Aguilar’s deposition testimony with State Bar prosecutors, in which he admitted being upset with Chief Justice George during a contempt hearing on March 9 in San Francisco. In that statement, Aguilar said he attended the hearing to do a mea culpa, “not because I thought I had done anything wrong and I still don’t.” When George pounced with questions, Aguilar said all it did was “stiffen my spine.” “I respect people. I respect judges. I respect the system,” he testified at deposition. “But that wasn’t something that I was going to back down to even for a chief justice of the Supreme Court.” Remke is required to have a report to the Supreme Court by April 30.

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