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S.F. TRIAL LAWYER RECALLS MURDERS HE LIKES IN MEMOIR Nathan Cohn used to think he needed to know Latin to become a lawyer, but when he was in his 20s, he met an attorney who set him straight. “He said, ‘That’s ridiculous. I can teach you all the Latin you need in 10 minutes,’” Cohn recalls. If not for that redirection, Cohn, 88, would probably never have started his practice in the 1940s. He almost certainly would never have had the chance to represent buxom stripper Tempest Storm, San Francisco trial lawyer Melvin Belli, a photographer who sued Frank Sinatra or a streetcar conductor/bigamist known as the Ding Dong Daddy of the D Line. And he definitely wouldn’t have acquired the material for the book he put out last month. Reading it is like sitting down with Cohn and hearing him spin one yarn after the next. Like any conversation, he can meander. But there’s usually a punch line; and sometimes, when you think he could be exaggerating, there’s a photo to show he’s not � like the one of his client’s son punching the prosecutor in the courtroom. Cohn has always been a regaler; the possibility of a book has been on his brain for decades. But he didn’t start putting together “Murder He Liked” until another fortuitous conversation in the mid-1990s. Rory McGahan, a volunteer with the local Coalition of Concerned Legal Professionals, remembers stopping by Cohn’s Sutter Street office to thank him for some help he’d given the group. “I figured it would be two minutes, and an hour and a half later” Cohn was still talking, McGahan recalls. The volunteer, who also edits the coalition’s magazine, thought Cohn’s memories would make good reading material, so they collaborated on a series of stories. And then, the book. “I was so fascinated with the color, the atmosphere,” says McGahan, likening Cohn’s stories to author Damon Runyon’s, whose writing inspired the musical “Guys and Dolls.” The book recounts some famous clients in scenes such as the news conference held in Cohn’s law office to publicize Tempest Storm’s 10-year, million-dollar burlesque contract. According to the book, the reporters on hand persuaded her to disrobe and pose nearly nude � artfully concealed by two pieces of paper from the contract. But Cohn’s favorite case is still a murder trial in which his client admitted to a highway patrolman that he stabbed his ex-wife’s new man 18 times. Cohn argued self-defense on behalf of his client. He also suggested that a surgical mistake might have been the ultimate cause of death. The jury acquitted in under an hour, says Cohn, who retired about four years ago. “Forty minutes to freedom,” he says. “That was great.” For more information on how to purchase “Murder He Liked,” call Polish Fisher Books, the publishing company started by McGahan and Cohn, at (415) 673-3333. � Pam Smith TENTATIVE RULINGS AVAILABLE Attention civil litigators! Santa Clara County Superior Court has some good news for you: tentative rulings for the civil discovery calendar are now just a mouse click away. Attorneys can find “hotspot” icons on the court’s Web site directing them to the new Discovery Tentative Ruling site, which made its debut last week. The idea originated last year when Judge James Kleinberg, then in charge of the civil discovery calendar, set up a system where attorneys could call in on Thursday afternoons to get the judge’s tentative ruling on one of their cases. If an attorney wanted to contest the tentative ruling, they needed to contact the opposing side and the judge by 4 p.m.; otherwise the tentative rulings become orders of the court. Presiding Judge Alden Danner said Kleinberg’s system was a hit with lawyers. Judge Socrates Manoukian, who is now in charge of civil discovery, said the system is recognized statewide as a “high-tech savant.” “A tentative ruling in advance of the hearing will focus the attention of the litigants on the matter the judge believes are important and provide some level of assurance that the papers have been read and that the important issues have been considered,” Manoukian wrote in an e-mail. Manoukian added the court will continue to provide tentative rulings via telephone. “We are always interested in input on how to serve the public,” Manoukian said. For more information, visit www.sccsuperiorcourt.org. � Julie O’Shea ENFORCEMENT OFFICE GETS BOOST The California State Water Resources Control Board has tapped Reed Sato, a deputy attorney general who secured the largest settlement in U.S. history for an underground fuel tank leak case, to lead the agency’s new Office of Enforcement. Sato starts May 1. The 11-member team of investigators and attorneys will focus on what Board Chairwoman Tam Doduc called “environmental protection through prosecution.” While the regulatory agency has an enforcement division now, investigators work with lawyers in the general counsel’s office, not with attorneys charged specifically with pursuing prosecutions. “This is a vital function that deserved to be beefed up,” board spokesman William Rukeyser said. Sato joins the state water board at a time when environmentalists have accused the agency and some of its nine subordinate regional boards for enforcing laws unevenly and going too easy on polluting businesses. For the last 12 years Sato has worked in the Department of Justice’s environment section. As the lead prosecutor in a case against Atlantic Richfield Corp., Sato in 2002 obtained a $25 million cash settlement plus another $21.6 million in environmental projects after the fuel company was accused of failing to upgrade its outdated underground storage tanks. He also secured a $25 million settlement from AT&T in January in a separate underground tank case. Before joining the attorney general’s office, Sato was a partner in the Sacramento firm of Washburn, Briscoe & McCarthy, which later merged with Stoel Rives. � Cheryl Miller

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