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A 20-month battle royal between San Francisco attorney Christopher Dolan and his former legal secretary fizzled out in an 11-day trial before a San Francisco judge. “Except for the matter of costs of suit, neither party is entitled to any relief against the other,” Superior Court Judge Alexander Saldamando concluded in a tentative decision last week. As Howard v. Dolan, 425293, raged through the courts for more than a year, to say that Kenneth Howard’s lawyers and Dolan locked horns would be an understatement. Each side had tried to get the other held in contempt, sanctioned or disqualified. Dolan at one point accused Bayer & Borlase, which represented Howard, of having a mole in his office. And Heather Borlase asked the judge to make sure allegations about her client’s sex life wouldn’t be allowed in the wage-and-hour dispute. Despite the furious sparring, neither side landed a knockout punch. Saldamando found that Howard didn’t show that Dolan, his ex-boss, misled him about workplace rights, refused to pay for all the overtime he had worked, or failed to give him required breaks. And Dolan didn’t show that Howard still had any of the firm’s confidential or proprietary information, as he had alleged in a countersuit. Because he denied relief to both sides, under state law Dolan is entitled to collect costs, the judge added. Dolan could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and his opponents, Borlase and partner Alan Bayer, did not return a call seeking comment. The case largely hinged on what happened at an August 2002 meeting between the boss and employee. Howard claimed that Dolan gave him a raise, then indicated he was making him a salaried employee who would no longer be eligible for any overtime. Dolan, who had paid Howard’s overtime up to that point, insists Howard promised to get his work done during regular work hours in exchange for the raise. Such deals become unenforceable if a worker ends up putting in overtime anyway and the boss is aware of it, according to Saldamando’s tentative decision. But the judge did not conclude that had happened. “The court does not find that Howard has established, either before or after August 2002, that he worked unpaid overtime hours or through rest or meal periods, let alone that he did so with the knowledge or acquiescence of Dolan,” Saldamando wrote. Dolan’s employees had permission to take naps or read for pleasure during breaks, as Dolan and two other employees testified they’d seen Howard doing, the judge wrote. And Howard frequently put up a sign when he didn’t want to be disturbed warning people that “The troll is out,” Saldamando noted. “‘The troll is out’ sign” — the judge refers to it five times in the decision — “leaves little doubt that he could and would take breaks whenever he chose to do so.” Dolan had also accused Howard of breach of contract and fraud for breaking the alleged no-overtime promise. But the judge said he couldn’t reasonably conclude Dolan took a financial hit if Howard did break such a deal, since the legal secretary didn’t convince the court he was owed anything. Saldamando did leave room for a few parting shots. He invited both sides to speak up this month if they think there’s anything left for a jury to hear.

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