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WITH RUSSO ON THE SIDELINES, OAKLAND LOOKS TO BE HEADED FOR A LOSS Big plates of crow might be in order at Oakland City Hall. On Friday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven Brick didn’t seem to buy the city’s argument that the Contra Costa Times can’t have access to the names of city workers who make more than $100,000 a year. The city furnished the information for eight years before it decided to stop, the judge said. “None of them has shown that the historical disclosure of this information has been harmful to anyone,” said Brick. But at the same time, Brick expressed reservations about revealing police pay. A ruling for the newspaper would vindicate City Attorney John Russo who, according to the newspaper’s court documents, advised city leaders to hand over the information. Russo says he’s recused himself from the case because he’s vocally supported open government, including Proposition 59, which would make sunshine rules part of the state constitution. In an interview, Russo stressed that stepping away from the case doesn’t mean that he thinks the city’s position isn’t valid, and he wouldn’t say how he advised the city. “I’m not the right lawyer to handle this suit,” he said. In court, city and union attorneys tried to recover lost ground. The First District Court of Appeal’s 2003 ruling in Teamsters Local 856 v. Priceless, 112 Cal.App.4th 1500, means that workers’ privacy comes first, argued Julia Bond of Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson. The Times hasn’t shown that there’s any city misconduct that justifies releasing the salaries, she said. But the newspaper shouldn’t have to prove that a pay scandal is likely, argued Times attorney Karl Olson. (Olson has also represented The Recorder.) Oakland imagines itself as idyllic as Lake Woebegone, he said. “It’s not. It’s Lake Merritt.” — Jahna Berry YOU’RE SO FAR AWAY Guam is so far away that things happening there aren’t just a few hours ahead of California time, they’re nearly a full day. That presents problems for U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who picked up a criminal case from the District Court of Guam earlier this year. He’s still got a full local calendar but needs to preside over hearings as the case, U.S. v. Shinohara, 03-00047, proceeds to trial. Alsup says technology is making things easier. Instead of traveling on a plane every few weeks — a trip that takes at least 15 hours and crosses the international date line — he’s using a video conferencing system to hold hearings in his courtroom. The high-tech gear consists of a camera on top of a high-quality television, which is placed directly in front of Alsup’s bench. A similar set-up is in the Guam courtroom. Alsup sees the attorneys and the rest of the courtroom; the people in Guam see Alsup’s image on a screen. “I find it to be a very useful way to save huge amounts of time,” Alsup said. There’s a bit of a delay in the sound, so everyone has to be extra careful not to interrupt or cut each other off. Alsup said picture quality of the television/camera combination is so excellent that it creates an illusion he and the attorneys are in a room together. “I will lose track of the fact they’re not really here in the courtroom,” Alsup said before a recent court appearance. Of course the judge can’t do everything via the video telephone. Earlier this summer he flew to the territory to conduct about 3 1/2 hours of hearings, and he expects to go to Guam for the trial, which is scheduled for early next year. Gil Shinohara was the chief of staff for former Guam Gov. Carl Gutierrez and faces charges including money laundering, conspiracy and bank fraud. Shinohara’s attorney, Michael Green, said he agrees with Alsup that the video conferencing is a good way to save time and money. Green is based in Hawaii. It takes him 7 1/2 hours to fly from there to Guam, so he’d actually like it if there could be a three-way system, with cameras and monitors in San Francisco, Hawaii and Guam. “That would be perfect,” Green said. Alsup picked up the case after the Guam judge was recused. The only disadvantage to the system seems to be that the cameras and monitors are not exactly centered. The courtroom in Guam is a few degrees off to one side, but Alsup said he doesn’t mind. “I get used to it, but it is not the same as having direct eye contact. But it’s close,” he said. — Jeff Chorney NO MORE HUNCHES When a panel from the Second District Court of Appeal reversed a custody decision this month, it chided a temporary judge for relying too much on his hunch. “Simple assumptions about a complex process cannot substitute for real analysis,” Second District Justice Laurie Zelon wrote, with Justices Dennis Perluss and Fred Woods concurring. Last October, Richard Hughes, a Los Angeles County Superior Court commissioner, split two brothers up when he awarded each parent custody of one child. The judge essentially agreed with the father, Russell Heath, that Michael, who had autism, was holding back the development of Samuel, the other son. The mother, Monica Heath, appealed. According to the appellate opinion, Hughes laid out the situation as he saw it. “I think that [Michael is] getting a lot of attention,” the opinion quotes Hughes as saying. “And when he gets the attention, the younger child says, ‘What about me? Maybe if I mimic the behaviors, then I’ll get that attention as well.’” But the trial court record was “silent” as to the brothers’ relationship, the true impact of Michael’s autism on Samuel, and the impact on Michael of losing Samuel, the appellate panel said in reversing and remanding the custody judgment. “No testimony was taken, no custody evaluation was ordered � no expert analysis was undertaken,” Zelon wrote. “Instead, the court relied on speculation by the father and children’s counsel, and his ‘hunch.’” In a footnote quoting a 1990 dissent from Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski, Zelon also suggested that the biblical King Solomon’s reputation as a man of justice is probably overrated. Solomon famously advised two women, each claiming to be the mother of the same baby, to split the child in half. As the story goes, the true parent revealed herself by saying no, putting the child’s interests ahead of her own. Kozinski’s take, as quoted by Zelon: “In lieu of engaging in careful fact-finding, Solomon may simply have handed the baby over to the woman who was clever enough to see through his bluff.” The case is In re Marriage of Heath, 04 C.D.O.S. 8531. — Pam Smith SILLS BEING SILLS As they say in sports, Justice David Sills was in a zone last week in a ruling that managed to cite Shakespeare, the Bible and medieval history while tossing in more humorous quips than a troupe of standup comics. “This is the appellate procedural case from hell,” he wisecracked in one footnote. And he wasn’t entirely joking. The Fourth District Court of Appeal’s ruling tackled a serious issue, taking on what the Santa Ana-based Sills called the “well-camouflaged trap” of unsigned minute orders, and calling on legislators to revise the rules “so that, if nothing else, they are simple enough even for those of us encumbered with law degrees to understand.” Without getting into the messy details, suffice it to say that the court found that attorneys for Quest International Inc. had relied on the wrong order and missed the deadline for appealing the dismissal of a motion aimed at determining in which state a case should be heard. So Sills — along with Justices William Rylaarsdam and Eileen Moore — reluctantly went along with the dismissal, even though they felt that Quest’s opponents at Icode Corp. had been “quite naughty” in luring Quest’s counsel into a trap. More interesting were the many catchy phrases and colorful lines in Sills’ 37-page masterpiece. A few gems: � “The amendments may be accurately characterized as ‘anti-whiner’ legislation: ‘But yore awn-ner, you didn’t fully consider the [fill-in-the-blank argument].’” � “The court in Passavanti acted like parents who deliver a long lecture to their teenage children about the evils of an upcoming rock concert and fuss and stamp and put their foot down and say no no no, only to, at the last moment, relent because the kids already have purchased their tickets.” � “Unlike doctors, appellate courts don’t bury their mistakes; we leave them embalmed for analysis by future pathologists for the rest of eternity.” � “It was a valiant attempt but, in the end, all too reminiscent of some melancholy song by Stephen Sondheim: ‘Isn’t it rich . . . counsel had nothing to fear . . . a case he thought was still up in mid-air was already dead on the ground . . . down here.’” The ruling is Quest International Inc. v. Icode Corp., 04 C.D.O.S. 8727. Watch for Sills at your local comedy club. — Mike McKee

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