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SMALL LADY WITH A TALL TALE GETS DAY IN COURT With quiet dignity, the small Asian woman approached the podium and began pouring out a story quite familiar to the justices of San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal. It was a fantastic tale of attempts on her life through carbon monoxide poisoning, contaminated bug bites and spiked milk masterminded by Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and the Chinese government — all in cooperation with the owners of a hotel from which she was once evicted. Loli Wang is no stranger to the court, having filed four appeals in recent years. But on Jan. 11, Wang showed up in person to argue her case. Dressed to the nines in a black outfit with a matching floor-length black jacket, a jeweled brooch and flashy dangling earrings, the elegant older woman spoke in broken English about several alleged assassination attempts, stolen museum-quality jewelry, and two men winding up dead when they refused to take $6,000 each to kill her. “They were my friends,” she said. “I never knew they were assassins.” The small court audience watched in stunned, unbelieving silence, while Justices Laurence Kay, Timothy Reardon and Maria Rivera sat quietly, giving Wang her 10 minutes and more. Litigants have the right to argue a case if they insist — and the justices deferred to her, though their muteness spoke volumes. In late September, another division of the court dismissed an almost identical Wang case by simply saying it was time barred. On Jan. 11, though, Wang had her say and strode happily from the courtroom with a look of complete accomplishment. Unfortunately, a month earlier, she had sent a couple of the justices Christmas cards — and, in a separate filing, promised to “reward” Presiding Justice Kay $20 million, and the other three justices $10 million for resolving her case. Oops! — Mike McKee FIRST-TIME JITTERS Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender Seth Flagsberg has spent the better part of the last two decades in courtrooms. But a recent trip to the California Supreme Court — his first — was enough to unnerve the defense lawyer. Flagsberg, who joined the public defender’s office in 1985, likened arguing in the Supreme Court to the feeling of getting in trouble in elementary school. “I left the court, and my shirt was soaked in sweat,” the 51-year-old lawyer said. “In a way, it’s almost like going to the principal’s office. They [the judges] were nice, but it’s like being in front of your teachers.” Flagsberg was in court to argue that under Proposition 36, a person on probation shouldn’t be jailed for new drug crimes. The proposition, passed by voters in 2000, provides money for low-level drug offenders to receive treatment rather than be sent to prison. Although Prop 36 specifically prohibits imprisoning parolees for new drug crimes, it is silent about people on probation who are charged with new drug offenses, Flagsberg said. “We’ve taken the position that this doesn’t make sense,” he said. Flagsberg became interested in the Prop 36 issue while working in the research section of the Santa Clara County public defender’s office. He was reading about the Prop 36 law and thought it didn’t make sense, so he looked for the right case to take to court. He found it in 2001. Four years later, Flagsberg is still pursuing the case. It’s extremely unusual for a public defender to stay with an appeal this long, said Paulino Duran, president of the California Public Defenders Association. He said complicated or lengthy appeals are usually handled by the research departments of large public defender’s offices. Flagsberg was a research attorney, but he kept the Prop 36 appeal when he resumed a case schedule. “We’d like to think that this would happen more often, but it’s relatively rare,” Duran said. “Not many of us reach the California Supreme Court, and that’s not for lack of trying. . . . This takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication, and a strong belief in where you are going,” he said. One of the reasons courtroom public defenders don’t get to the top court more often is their caseloads. The lawyers are simply too busy and must hand over the cases to research departments, Duran said. Flagsberg is happy he took on the case, but worried that he wasn’t in top form on his big day several weeks ago. “They [the judges] asked me a lot of questions, and frankly it wasn’t one of the best arguments,” he said. But he’s glad he got this far and believes his appeal could help numerous people if affirmed. “It could have a significant effect on a bunch of cases, in that people wouldn’t be sent to prison,” he said. “And I think that’s what the voters wanted in this instance.” — Justin M. Norton FLYING HIGH? Oakland attorney Dan Siegel, who recently campaigned to reduce penalties for possessing pot in the city, was busted himself for allegedly trying to carry the drug onto an airplane last week. Siegel, an Oakland school board member running for mayor, was cited for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana after police detained him Jan. 11 at Oakland International Airport. The partner in Oakland’s Siegel & Yee co-authored the ballot argument favoring Measure Z, a citywide initiative that sought to ease punishments for marijuana possession. It passed in November with 64 percent approval. Siegel, who was in Southern California on business Friday, could not be reached for comment. But he appeared unashamed by the incident in other news reports. He told the San Francisco Chronicle he does not have a prescription to use marijuana but smokes it to reduce stress, saying it is “just a part of life.” — Warren Lutz

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