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STATE BAR OPENS NISPEROS’ JOB TO OTHER APPLICANTS Is State Bar Chief Trial Counsel Mike Nisperos Jr. being pushed out the door? Everyone — including Nisperos — says that’s not the case, but the circumstances sure look suspicious. Nisperos’ four-year contract expires in April, but rather than reappoint him, the State Bar Board of Governors has opened up his job to new applicants. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31, and Bar officials said recently that they hope to have the job filled by March. Nisperos is free to reapply. State Bar Deputy Executive Director Robert Hawley and President John Van de Kamp went to great lengths recently to say that the job search doesn’t reflect badly on Nisperos — that it was just better to take the “sunshine approach.” “Openness is a good thing,” Hawley said. “And, obviously, the Legislature has taken enough interest in the job to give it a legislative component.” The Senate Rules Committee has the final say about who gets the job. However, when asked directly whether State Bar leaders had problems with Nisperos, Van de Kamp hedged, calling that a “personnel kind of thing.” He also said Nisperos had been “rated on a year-to-year basis internally as required.” Reopening the position, he said, “is one of the checks and balances that has been put into place. It keeps the Legislature in the loop and makes sure we have the best possible people in the job.” Even Nisperos said last week he didn’t believe he was being shown the door. “They’ve said this is the normal process,” he said, “and I have no reason to believe they are not telling me the truth.” Nisperos, however, might not reapply. His father passed away in June, he said, and he’s considering moving back to Oakland from Los Angeles to be closer to his mother. Of course, it must be noted that Nisperos’ predecessor, Judy Johnson, was automatically reappointed in 1998. She resigned in April 2000 to become the State Bar’s executive director. Hawley called Johnson’s situation an aberration. At the time, the State Bar was all but shut down after then-Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed its funding, he said. Halls were dark, doors were closed, and much of the staff had been laid off. Johnson did the State Bar a favor by staying on, he said. “Who would take that job?” — Mike McKee DNA ARMS RACE? When the San Francisco public defender’s office hired defense lawyer Bicka Barlow last summer as its in-house DNA specialist, prosecutors braced themselves for more discovery battles. Now, they’re arming themselves with some extra ammunition. At a discovery hearing last month in the high-profile murder case against alleged cop killer David Hill, the two prosecutors originally assigned to the case stayed mum. Instead, Assistant DA Braden Woods did all the talking. He and Assistant DA Laura Zunino have taken the lead for pretrial hearings on DNA in the Hill case, as well as several other DNA cases in which the public defender is asking for more discovery than usual, Woods said. “We’re trying to put together a consistent approach to how we handle these motions,” said Chief Assistant DA Russell Giuntini. But the DA’s office insists the extra ammo wasn’t prompted by Barlow’s arrival. “We always want to put on the best possible case that we can, and we would do that no matter what the public defender’s office did,” said spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh. She said the DA needs money to hire another lawyer dedicated to DNA cases, especially since the office expects to be inundated with new DNA matches in cold cases over the next year and a half. Woods has racked up DNA experience over five years on the homicide team, while Zunino, a former superior court research attorney, leads the DA’s writs and appeals team. But the prosecution has also brought in a little extra help from across the bay. Rock Harmon, who coordinates cold hit cases for the Alameda County DA, is acting as “of counsel” for the discovery issues, according to Giuntini. Harmon — who knows Giuntini and DA Kamala Harris from their days in the Alameda County office, and used to share an office with Giuntini — was a silent presence at the Hill hearing last month. Harmon says he doesn’t see the same level of litigation over DNA evidence in Alameda County and wants to help San Francisco reduce its load. — Pam Smith NEW COASTAL CHAIR California Coastal Commissioner Meg Caldwell, director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Program at Stanford Law School, has been picked by her fellow board members to chair the coastal panel. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Caldwell, described by colleagues as a moderate Republican, to the commission in June with the blessing of the Sierra Club. Her unanimous election as chairwoman, which took place at the commission’s Dec. 8 meeting, could potentially strengthen the governor’s influence over the panel, which regulates land use along the coast. Prior to taking the Stanford post, Caldwell served as counsel for Micro-Clean Inc. in San Jose. She worked in the mid-1980s as an associate for what used to be McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen. She has also served on the board of the nonprofit Waterkeepers Northern California, an environmental group that monitors San Francisco Bay, and as a Saratoga planning commissioner. — Jill Duman

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