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NINTH CIRCUIT MARKS 100TH BIRTHDAY WITH FOOD, TOURS U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stopped by San Francisco last week to help the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals celebrate the 100th anniversary of its headquarters. The James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse, located at the corner of Mission and Seventh streets, opened in 1905. It’s been through a lot since then, including two major earthquakes and some of the most controversial opinions this side of the Mississippi. But last week it was all smiles and good cheer for O’Connor and a few hundred other guests of the court, mostly judges from within the circuit who watched a historical reenactment of a Ninth Circuit case while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and wine. There’ll be a public celebration in August, but people don’t have to wait until then to tour the courthouse. Unveiled at the party was a public exhibit chronicling the building’s construction and history. Designed in the Beaux Arts style that was popular in the early part of the last century, the courthouse features intricate, multicolored tiling, elaborate marble carvings, stunning woodwork and embossed ceilings. O’Connor dedicated Room 329B — a corner office and small conference space — as the “circuit justice chambers” because it once was used as the office of whichever Supreme Court justice was appointed to “ride” the Ninth Circuit. Although she joked that “it’s a lot nicer than my chambers” in Washington, D.C., O’Connor won’t actually use the office. She is the Ninth’s point person for emergency appeals, but riding circuit — justices traveling around a circuit to sit in on different cases — was abolished years ago. Senior Ninth Circuit Judge Procter Hug Jr. uses 329B when he visits San Francisco from his home chambers in Reno, Nev. After guests finished eating, O’Connor gave a talk on music and the law before everyone heard a performance by the Quartet of Appeals, featuring Ninth Circuit staff attorney Susan Soong on violin. — Jeff Chorney SPRUCING UP THE JOINT The district attorney’s office in San Francisco’s dilapidated Hall of Justice has taken another tiny step to imitate the glossy sheen of its downtown law firm brethren. DA Kamala Harris started sprucing up prosecutors’ offices shortly after her inauguration last year, starting with a new coat of paint. (Employees previously had to tackle that chore themselves if they wanted to freshen up their office, according to Harris’ spokeswoman.) But one of the most striking changes has come recently, in the hallway leading to the office’s modest reception area. Gone are the anti-domestic violence posters that used to dot the walls. About 30 paintings have taken their place, lining the hallway from end to end with a montage of images, from mountaineering to boxing to abstracts. They’re all for sale, with 65 percent of the money going to the Academy of Art University students who painted them, said gallery representative Michael Hornyak. The rest funds the school’s nonprofit student galleries in downtown San Francisco. The paintings have been hanging since the turn of the new year. By early this month, none of the pieces, priced from $500 to $14,000, had sold. The DA’s office has made various changes to make the office more efficient, attractive and law firm-like, said Martha Knutzen, law office manager. The satellite gallery grew out of a conversation when Harris ran into the school president at an event, Knutzen said. “Every time Kamala goes out and talks to people, she’s looking for ways to beautify this place with no money,” said DA spokeswoman Debbie Mesloh. Of course, aesthetics only go so far. According to a 2004 city audit, Harris’ fixing up has included clearing boxes of files from the hallways and hauling two refrigerators out of their resting spot in the women’s bathroom. But most attorneys still share offices and, the audit says, the building’s condition continues to be “substandard.” — Pam Smith JUST SAY NO He was a little late and not the most eloquent of witnesses, but U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft looked young and lean in federal court last week. More importantly, Ashcroft won his case. Well, at least the kid playing him did. Two dozen high school students held a mock trial in U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson’s courtroom last Tuesday night, where they tried a medical marijuana case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue: whether a seriously ill woman can legally use medical marijuana under Prop 215, California’s so-called “compassionate use” law. The real case, Raich v. Ashcroft, is waiting to be heard by the high court. Highlights of the hour-long arguments included 17-year-old plaintiff lawyer Alex Mitra’s gritty cross-examination of Ashcroft, played by 15-year-old Rory O’Sullivan. Ashcroft insisted that the federal Controlled Substances Act helps fight terrorism (presumably by keeping drug money out of the hands of terrorists). But Mitra got him to acknowledge that it was unlikely that Angel Raich, who grew marijuana at home for personal use under a doctor’s prescription, was a terrorist. Despite some initial confusion over the verdict form, the jury decided against Raich, believing the Controlled Substances Act did not exceed Congress’ power under the commerce clause when it was applied to growing marijuana for a personal medical use. Henderson congratulated the kids for doing a “dynamite” job. Then he congratulated himself. “I was proud of myself,” he said. “I didn’t sneer when [Attorney] General Ashcroft took the stand.” While a jury of students deliberated the case, Henderson took questions from the audience, offering his personal views on everything from the civil rights movement — it has “lost its power,” he said — to affirmative action, which he believes helped him reach the federal bench. — Warren Lutz

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