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Among the lawyers who appeared on TV analyzing developments in Scott Peterson’s Redwood City murder trial, many were well-known heavyweights from the Bay Area legal community. Others had a lower profile, but had long been known around the halls of their local courthouse. And occasionally, a relative unknown like Harjot “Ginny” Walia would make an appearance. With four trials under her belt and less than two years on her bar card, the Puri & Walia partner is establishing herself on the legal talk circuit. While many legal commentators earn their media moments after years in the trenches, Walia caught hers by chance. She recalls she was at the Redwood City courthouse for a workers’ compensation fraud case in August when a producer from Fox News Channel approached her. The chance meeting led the criminal defense lawyer to her first guest analyst appearance. She estimates she’s made more than a dozen since, mostly on “Fox News Live,” but also on local news station KRON 4, as well as a local NBC affiliate, “The O’Reilly Factor” and Court TV. She snagged a spot on a panel of lawyers for Court TV’s “Closing Arguments” when she spotted anchor Nancy Grace at the Redwood City courthouse, signing autographs. Walia introduced herself, mentioned her appearances on “Fox News Live” and asked, “Why don’t you put me on your show?” Before she entered private practice, Walia worked at the San Francisco public defender’s office, first as an intern, then as a volunteer attorney. Public Defender Jeff Adachi remembers her as “someone who had a lot of confidence starting her career.” “It takes a certain amount of moxie to go right into private practice,” he added. One year into that practice, Walia looks at TV as an opportunity to draw business to her fledgling firm. “You need a lawyer with media experience!” her firm’s Web site proclaims. Walia said she followed the Peterson trial by dropping into court at key points and following reporters’ courthouse blogs. Guests commonly conduct research or vet issues before making an appearance, says a booking producer for an MSNBC TV show. For Walia, that has meant delving into the law for capital cases, conducting research on the Internet and talking things over with a former law school professor. “I’ve had to study up on this a lot. Obviously, I have not had a murder case before,” Walia said. “It’s something I need to learn anyway,” she later noted, because she wants to have a murder case some day. Her gravest assignment to date is defending attempted murder with an enhancement, though she’s also represented clients facing a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. The feisty attorney exudes an eagerness to go to trial. Even if a client can’t pay her full retainer, “I’ll take their case to trial because I like to fight.” Jean Amabile, who supervised Walia in the public defender’s misdemeanor trial training program, describes her as fearless and tenacious. “She assesses her case and really holds her ground.” In one misdemeanor case, Walia subpoenaed Paul Cummins, head of the DA’s criminal division and No. 3 in that office, to investigate why the prosecution had withdrawn a plea offer for her client. (Cummins, who did not end up testifying, didn’t recall the details of Walia’s case, but said defense attorneys usually try to subpoena him a couple of times a year.) In the end, Walia’s client walked away with a traffic citation. While Amabile said she was “thrilled” for Walia to get the chance to do commentary, the law school professor who’s helped Walia with her research says he had reservations about it. “Ginny is a bright, committed, very dedicated young woman,” said Bernard Segal, a criminal defense lawyer and director of the litigation program at Golden Gate University School of Law. One of the things he likes about her, he added, is that she eagerly seeks advice from more experienced people. But when Walia told him she was going to be a guest analyst on the Peterson trial, Segal said, “I expressed considerable reservations about it.” Given the number of trials she’d had and the fact that none involved a capital murder like the Peterson case, he said, he was concerned “she might not really be able to do the job that was needed” and could even harm her reputation. “But it didn’t turn out badly,” he said, adding that Walia “didn’t embarrass herself” and came across as very likeable. Walia notes that many questions on the shows deal more with the law than a commentator’s first-hand experience, such as the time when she was asked whether a judge can give a defendant life without parole even when a jury recommends a death sentence. When she’s been pre-interviewed by producers, she added, “they wanted to know my familiarity with California law.” The methods and criteria for picking guest analysts can vary from show to show and channel to channel, producers said. Bookers line up most guests, notes Court TV daytime publicist Andie Silvers, though sometimes anchors or reporters find them — as was the case with Walia and Nancy Grace. Brian Cohen, who books guests for MSNBC TV’s “The Abrams Report,” said that when the show covers a high-profile trial, he first looks to snag key players in the case, then local attorneys who know the area’s case law. In approaching lawyers, he looks for intelligence and experience specific to the situation, he said. “They can’t be [Peterson's attorney] Mark Geragos, but they have been in that situation.” Walia has not appeared on “The Abrams Report.” Cohen said his show is “always open to new faces and new guests,” but he pre-interviews newcomers more extensively. He scopes out a lawyer’s prior cases and career history in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, on Google and in news archives. Michelle Richmond, senior producer in the booking department for Court TV’s daytime shows, says she also tries to find local lawyers who have had experience with a particular judge or with lawyers key to the trial. Walia’s guest spots have been unpaid, though there are occasional perks, like the limo that has squired her to appearances on Fox News. Walia says she justifies the time as a publicity opportunity for her young firm. “It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise on national TV. If somebody will put ‘Partner, Puri & Walia’ on there, what could be better?” Walia’s firm, which has offices in San Francisco and Hayward, is still assessing whether her sideline is affecting its bottom line. While some clients have mentioned seeing her on TV, Walia said, “We’re trying to figure out if we’re getting clients that way.” “But it certainly gives me more credibility with clients who are coming in,” she added, noting that clients occasionally ask how old she is. (She’s 26.) Richard Levick, who runs a legal communications firm in Washington, D.C., observes that so long as you don’t “go on television and make an imbecile of yourself,” appearing as an analyst in any capacity is almost always a plus. “How better to promote your reputation than have the imprimatur of expert from the media?” he said. Bay Area legal publicist Elizabeth Lampert confirms, “TV is never a waste,” though it’s most effective when one appears at peak times, wears the right clothes and speaks well. But one difficulty, Lampert said, is getting one’s firm’s name broadcast. “They usually do use the attorney’s name, but most often will not post the name of the firm.” Walia’s had some good luck there, albeit not a perfect record. “Fox News Live” has flashed “Walia is a partner at S.F. firm Puri & Walia” across the bottom of the screen, but “The O’Reilly Factor” missed at least once when it labeled her “a public defender.” Walia likens her TV gigs to a hobby and professes no ambitions to become a full-time legal analyst down the road, saying she wouldn’t want to give up trying cases. Maybe some day, she mused, she’ll find a way to do half her work in court and half on TV. But she’s taking it one step at a time. “It’s something that I really like and I want to make time for,” she said in an interview three days before a San Mateo County jury recommended a death sentence for Peterson. “I’m hearing that the [Robert] Blake trial is coming up, and I want to be a part of it.”

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