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PILLSBURY STAFF GIVES ITS BONUS POOL A MIXED REVIEW High profits per partner may put stars in the eyes of a firm’s highest paid lawyers, but sometimes that glow fails to trickle down to a firm’s staff. That’s apparently the case at Pillsbury Winthrop, where the firm confirmed that this year’s staff bonus pool is $500,000 less than the two previous years. The firm says there’s a good reason for that: Bonuses in the two previous years were artificially inflated to make up for a salary freeze in effect in previous years. But the difference was enough to prompt calls to The Recorder from four people saying they were secretaries and paralegals at the firm but who wouldn’t reveal their names. “They cut our bonuses by half,” said one caller. “That makes me really upset.” The staffers, who also complained about this year’s salary increase, said they were particularly annoyed given that the firm’s profits have been steadily increasing. One caller to The Recorder said, “The bonuses and increases this year were really lousy.” Not everybody is complaining. LaVern Lipinski, a legal secretary in the firm’s San Francisco office for 27 years, said that although some people wished they had gotten more, she had no gripes with the firm. “I’m happy with [my bonus],” she said. “I think the firm has been fair throughout the years — and with business conditions and the merger [with Shaw Pittman] coming up.” A senior legal analyst in S.F. said she was also satisfied with her bonus and salary increase this year. “I had some concerns, and they listened and they gave me what I was hoping to get,” she said. The firm’s bonuses and increases are merit-based, said Pillsbury Chief Human Resource Officer Deborah Johnson. “Bonuses are awarded to retain the very top performers,” she said. “If somebody is exceptional, their bonus reflects that; if average, the bonus reflects that; and if below average, they might not get a bonus.” This year, Johnson said, merit raises were 3 percent and merit bonuses were 3.5 percent. Last year, she said, merit raises were 3 percent and merit bonuses were about 4 percent. The bonus pool extends to all staff, including executives and the marketing department. Johnson said partners also kicked in an additional $1 million this year to help subsidize employees’ increasing health care premiums. — Marie-Anne Hogarth GORDON & REES MAKES IT A DOUBLE If it seems as though attorneys in Gordon & Rees’ employment division had trouble keeping the smiles off their faces, there’s an easy explanation: two wins in two days. The firm notched its first trial victory Feb. 24 with a defense verdict in Kelley v. University of California in Alameda County Superior Court, in which a University of California architect and Vietnam War veteran claimed the school would not make adjustments for his mental and physical disabilities and ultimately fired him. After a three-week trial, the jury in the case deliberated five hours before reaching a verdict unanimously rejecting each of the plaintiff’s claims. The next day, a jury in federal court in San Jose returned another unanimous verdict in favor of another Gordon & Rees client, Stanford University, after another three-week trial. The school faced charges it discriminated against a 20-year employee who was angry about being passed up for a promotion. “The fun thing about it all is here we had four attorneys from our 11-person group in trial for about a month,” said Gordon & Rees partner Michael Laurenson, Stanford co-counsel in Norwood v. Stanford University. “It doesn’t happen too often.” In the Stanford case, the defense argued that plaintiff Edward Norwood was justly fired for insubordination after he repeatedly caused disruptions on the job and refused to take orders from his new boss, who got the job Norwood had wanted. At one point, attorneys said, Norwood taunted his new boss at a meeting by waving his hands, spinning in circles and screeching “me-me-me-me-me-me!” “He was repeatedly rude and disrespectful,” said Laurenson, who tried the case with Gordon & Rees Managing Partner Michael Lucey. “It was a really difficult situation because the guy was a 20-year employee, and they really did feel he had a lot to contribute.” The plaintiff attorney in the Kelley case, Dan Siegel of Oakland firm Siegel & Yee, is no stranger to suits against UC or with Gordon & Rees. He and the firm both specialize in academia-related suits and have faced off before. Siegel was quick with the props, though. “I think [Gordon & Rees partner] Michael Bruno was well prepared and makes a good presentation,” Siegel said. “Given that he’s relatively young, I thought he did a very good job.” Bruno, 37, worked the case with Gordon & Rees associate Andrew McNaught, who was preparing to respond to a reporter’s questions about the Kelley suit the day after the verdict when he heard the outcome of the Norwood case. “We’re feeling pretty good around here,” he said. — Warren Lutz VROOM Patent attorneys don’t usually drive around in lowrider trucks. But Byron Cooper understands what goes into the design of them. Although his 1986 Toyota 4Runner doesn’t hug the ground, Cooper has spent hours replacing various parts to give the SUV more power. His tinkering came in handy when he was working on his latest patent case. Cooper, a partner at Townsend and Townsend and Crew, is representing Mike McGaughy, a Fresno auto parts dealer who invented a new kind of drop spindle — a device used to lower an automobile’s chassis. McGaughy saw that people were copying his spindle, so “he came to Townsend to see if he could get a patent,” Cooper said. The firm filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and on Tuesday, the day the patent issued, the firm sued Belltech Inc. for infringement in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Cooper said McGaughy’s drop spindle differs from others on the market because it allows sport trucks to be lowered while keeping their original suspension and smooth ride. The device won the Specialty Equipment Market Association Design Award from General Motors for Most Innovative Product in 2003. Belltech denies it has infringed McGaughy’s patent. “We believe the patent which is the subject of the suit is either anticipated or made obvious in light of prior art and is therefore invalid,” said Belltech attorney Mark Miller, a partner at Fresno’s Kimble MacMichael & Upton. Based in Sanger, near Fresno, Belltech sells sport truck suspension products. The company claims on its Web site that it “started the lowered sport truck craze with the award-winning Dropped Spindle.” McGaughy’s patent includes several Belltech brochures, catalogs and advertisements as reference material. Cooper said Belltech submitted this material to the patent office as prior art in an effort to prevent the patent from being issued. Disputes like McGaughy’s have become more common, Cooper said, as the aftermarket auto parts industry has grown. “When people come out with an aftermarket auto part, other people copy it,” Cooper said. “More clients are coming to us asking for patents on parts.” The case is Mike McGaughy’s Classic Chevy Parts v. Bell Super Tech, 0873. — Brenda Sandburg

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