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DECONSTRUCTION BAR FINDS MEANING IN DERRIDA DEATH When the mind that launched 1,000 reactionary academic tracts died last week, at least a few local attorneys took note. One might even say they found meaning. In a refrain familiar to many lawyers, Jacques Derrida, the notoriously complex French theorist who died Oct. 8, was labeled by critics as a moral relativist, a nihilist who obscured the distinction between right and wrong. So perhaps it makes sense that, among Derrida’s 1,403 most ardent supporters — meaning those who signed a letter this week to The New York Times objecting to an Oct. 10 obituary that called him an “abstruse theorist” — were at least 22 attorneys, law professors and students. One of them was Philip Leider, a deputy San Francisco city attorney. “You could just hear [the author of the obituary] saying, ‘Everything about this was a bunch of garbage. Thank God he’s gone,’” Leider said. Leider, for one, is not thanking God — or whomever the post-Nietzsche equivalent would be — largely because he spent the early 1990s as Derrida’s student and personal assistant at UC-Irvine. While Leider abandoned literary theory for law school in 1996, he said Derrida’s teachings were not abstruse enough to leave behind. “You learn to listen for things, to look for things in writing and legal writing, that you would never have learned,” said Leider, who left Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom last spring to work on same-sex marriage litigation for the city. Derrida wrote extensively on the law, and his work was widely discussed in American legal theory after he spoke at a 1993 conference on ethics and law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. Scott Spear, at the time an Alameda County public defender, attended the conference. He said that while Derrida’s work has few direct courtroom applications, his theories of meaning and ethics remain important influences, despite many law professors’ opinions that Derrida’s work is too unintelligible to teach. “There’s something hypocritical about criticizing him for being difficult, since that’s what we’re supposed to do, to try to understand difficult texts,” Spear said, adding that he’s never met another lawyer who has read a single Derrida text. Jonathan Simon, an associate dean at Boalt Hall School of Law, says this hypocrisy (or pharisaism, as Derrida would put it) keeps many law students from learning some of the more important pieces of legal theory. “It’s the kind of serious thinking that law school dilettantism doesn’t lend itself to,” he said. The overarching message of this serious thinking: “Language as a surface is not a flat message board where you can post the message that you want. It’s a roiling wave of meaning whose force we can direct,” Simon said. Practically speaking, this means that legal documents may be read — deconstructed, even — as texts separate from their authors’ intent. But Rajiv Vrudhula, also a signatory on the Derrida defense letter and an associate in Morrison & Foerster’s New York office specializing in financial transactions, hopes to keep this lesson out of his work. “The purpose of what we’re doing is trying to stamp out ambiguity,” he said. — Justin Scheck FLOOR EXERCISE Kelly Crabb gave up high school dreams of playing pro football in favor of a long-since abandoned guitar hobby. But that hasn’t stopped the Morrison & Foerster partner from competing in the sports arena — in representing such figures as Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, as well as doing work for Olympics organizing committees. All eyes this week, however, will be on his client, American gymnast Paul Hamm, who is expected to learn if he will retain his gold medal. Crabb isn’t worried. He says it would be unprecedented for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to rule in South Korean gymnast Yang Tae-Young’s favor — changing the rankings and giving Yang the gold. At issue is the International Gymnastics Federation’s admittance that Yang was mistakenly given a 9.9 instead of a 10.0 start value on his parallel bars routine. Crabb, who easily launches into a replay of the case, says it isn’t so cut-and-dried. He offers a glimpse of the hours of closed-door testimony. The Century City-based attorney argued that the protest wasn’t filed in time, and there was no way of predicting the outcome had it been made in a timely manner. Also, Yang benefited from a separate mistake made by judges during the artistic portion of his routine. That Hamm hired his own lawyer speaks to the unique nature of the case, Crabb says. Most of the Court of Arbitration for Sport proceedings happen during the game, says Crabb, but the Korean athlete brought his complaint forward on the day before the closing ceremonies. “Everybody was gone — including the panel,” Crabb said. “Paul knew nothing about it.” — Marie-Anne Hogarth JENNIFER WATCH: WEEK 6 If “The Apprentice” were turned into a theater production, acting divas wouldn’t be vying for the part of Jennifer Massey. So far the Clifford Chance associate hasn’t gotten much time on camera. It could be Massey’s strategy to stay under the radar until Donald Trump narrows the number of contestants. Then again, it could be the producers’ editing. Each week Donald Trump assigns the two teams, which are now divided entirely by gender, a business task. On the sixth episode they each created a new women’s clothing line. Both teams chose a designer, helped decide a clothing style, selected fabric and priced the clothes. Models then showed off the line at a fashion show. The women trounced the men, selling $22,060 worth of their clothes to the men’s sales of $7,735. While some of the women laughed at the men’s line, Massey leaned over and told her opponents, “That’s so couture.” One of the men asked what that meant. “High fashion,” one of his teammates replied. John, the project manager of the men’s team, tried to blame its poor showing on Kevin, one of two teammates in charge of pricing, and Andy, the youngest contestant. Trump asked John why he brought Kevin into the boardroom and not Wes, who had also priced the clothes. John was speechless for a few seconds and then told Trump he’d made a mistake not to bring Wes in. “You made a lot of mistakes,” Trump shot back. “I apologize,” John said. “I made mistakes.” Trump told John that as project manager he should have been involved in pricing the fashion line. “That’s inexcusable,” Trump said. “John, you’re fired. You made too many bad decisions.” Fired this week: John. — Brenda Sandburg

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