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The defendant was on the witness stand and Cheree Clark, an 18-year-old veteran prosecutor, had him on the ropes.

The boy was at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland because he ran and hid from a police officer. The police later learned he had been riding a stolen bike. The boy testified that he resisted arrest because he was in a hurry to fetch his grandmother’s medication from the pharmacy. He borrowed the bike from a friend, he said, and didn’t know it was stolen.

“You could have walked to Walgreens?” Clark asked the defendant.

“Yes,” the boy said.

Stopping and talking to the police would have taken only a few minutes, she said. “Instead, you made it a bigger problem than it was,” the Berkeley High School student added.

The defense team, Oakland Tech students Zenobia Bell and Monroe Whisenton, tried to repair the damage. But the jury –– a panel of six wary students who shook their heads as the teen launched into his errand story –– came down hard with its verdict. The boy had to do 20 hours of community service, serve on two youth court juries, go to an intervention program for young men, and write a letter of apology to the police officer and his grandmother.

In the Donald P. McCullum Youth Court, low-level juvenile offenders are sentenced in a court run by their peers –– teenagers are the attorneys, court administrators and jurors. The 10-year-old program has been praised for preventing young offenders from “graduating” to more serious offenses and preventing youth crime.

These days, however, the program is in a financial bind, said Wendy Worms, director of youth services.

The state funding that pays for more than half of the program’s services is being cut by 25 percent and might be phased out eventually, Worms said. Other funding that it relies on, such as money from the Alameda County probation department, is also being eyed for cuts.

On May 14, the youth court will hold its first major fund-raiser, a luncheon at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. State Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard will give the keynote address.

Tickets are $75. For more information call (510) 832-5858 or go to www.youthcourt.org.

Jahna Berry


Berkeley attorney Elizabeth Grossman hopes people will show up at her office this week to meet two international civil rights lawyers who saved a Nigerian woman from the death penalty.

The lawyers, Hauwa Ibrahim of Nigeria and Catherine Mabille of France, worked together to help the woman, Amina Lawal, prevail on an appeal after she was convicted of adultery under Nigeria’s strict system of Islamic religious law. Lawal was to be stoned to death after weaning her out-of-wedlock child.

Mabille was turned on to the case through her work with the French group Avocats Sans Frontières, or Lawyers Without Borders.

But Grossman makes no effort to hide an ulterior motive behind this week’s reception — she’d like to start a local chapter of the group.

“We’re hoping that people will be moved by the work that they’re doing, as well as support it financially,” said Grossman, who’s asking for a $25 donation at the reception.

ASF brings together local attorneys with volunteers from other countries who have legal expertise that might help the local case. ASF attorneys work as volunteers, but the group tries to help them pay travel and other expenses. The group also helps developing countries improve their laws, distributes legal information, and runs observation missions.

Grossman said she finds the work of the volunteers “inspiring.”

Grossman, who does criminal defense work — everything from traffic cases to murders, she says — got involved through her friendship with Mabille, whom she met on a bus in Greece more than 20 years ago.

Mabille has asked Grossman to work at the International Criminal Court that is trying the Rwandan genocide, but Grossman said she hasn’t decided whether she wants to go.

ASF is not affiliated with another group called Lawyers Without Borders that is based in Connecticut.

The ASF reception starts at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Jeff Chorney


There was a little bit of stoner irony last week surrounding U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson’s petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review Raich v. Ashcroft, 03-15481.

That ruling by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals protects medical marijuana patients who grow marijuana for their own use from getting busted by federal authorities. Cannabis activists expected the government to appeal; they just didn’t know when.

So a few were surprised when Olson filed Wednesday. That day — April 20 or 4/20 — is like Christmas in the marijuana community because “420″ is slang that describes when it’s time to smoke out.

It’s not clear exactly how 420 came to be associated with marijuana smoking — a number of theories are out there, but none has been proven.

At any rate, now the date is also an excuse for marijuana activism. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws tries to hold its annual conference as close to the date as possible. And last week’s meeting, held in Washington, D.C., featured Angel Raich — the plaintiff in the case.

William Dolphin, communications director for Americans for Safe Access, said he doesn’t think the government lawyers know about 420.

“My suspicion is that it was purely happenstance, but you wonder if there is somebody in the [DOJ] office with a sense of humor,” Dolphin said.

DOJ spokesman Charles Miller confirmed that the filing was “totally happenstance.”

“Our attorneys didn’t even know that term,” Miller said.

Jeff Chorney


Justin Jacobs Jr. didn’t find a sympathetic ear at the Sixth District Court of Appeal last week.

First, a panel of three justices affirmed a decision to dismiss his malicious prosecution suit against H. Roger Lawler — who had sued Jacobs for breach of contract and fraud over a land deal and lost on appeal — and Lawler’s lawyers. Then the justices affirmed awards for attorneys fees and costs of about $125,000 to Jacobs’ opponents.

And to top it off, the justices delivered a withering commentary on the substance of Jacobs’ arguments: In one of two April 20 unpublished opinions on the awards, Justice Eugene Premo wrote that Jacobs’ 40-page brief — accompanied by a nine-volume, 3,100-page record — “has two pages of a cognizable appellate issue.”

The justices disagreed with Jacobs’ “two-page point” that he shouldn’t have to pay Redwood City’s Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley — which represented Lawler for part of the litigation — because the firm appeared pro per in the form of partner Susan Handelman, Premo continued.

Premo based his decision on PLCM Group Inc. v. Drexler, 22 Cal.4th 1084. In that case, the state Supreme Court concluded that in-house counsel are entitled to fees as the prevailing party even though they receive a salary and do not charge a client.

Jacobs argued PLCM wasn’t applicable because Handelman wasn’t an employee of her firm, but the court didn’t buy it. “The key fact … is whether services were performed that, if done by an outside company, would have been charged to defendants,” Premo wrote.

The upshot of the two opinions: The awarded attorneys fees and costs should stand: $63,987 for Ropers and its lawyers; $33,623 for the now-dissolved Clark & Korda Partnership and its attorneys; and $27,285 for Lawler.

Adding insult to Jacobs’ injury, the justices seemed to encourage Lawler and his lawyers to seek even more money from Jacobs. They’re entitled, Premo wrote, “to make a motion in the trial court to recover their attorney fees and costs incurred on this appeal.”

Pam Smith

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