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WHEN HANGING DESERT SHINGLE, DON A BIG HAT Over the weekend, mediator Ron Kelly planned to put on his full-length white linen suit and his huge green hat � “three feet in diameter” � and set up his booth in the desert, so he could do what he describes as some of his most interesting work. For the past six years or so, Kelly has made for the Black Rock Desert of Nevada to join the annual Burning Man festival, an eight-day celebration of artistic and cultural fancy that has in the past drawn up to 25,000 participants. The hat is quite functional. “The weather out there is just preposterously abusive,” Kelly said. The heat hits 110 degrees and dust storm winds can whip at up to 70 miles per hour. It makes people a little crazy. “It’s very stressful on couples and campmates,” said Kelly, who serves up instant mediation services to help the strung out resolve conflicts. A few years ago, he helped a couple for whom the pressures of Burning Man led to the verge of divorce; he received an e-mail from them later. “The mediation was a turning point in their marriage, and they’re still together,” he said. He’s not the only Bay Area attorney to find professional gratification at Burning Man. San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Gina Roccanova has been one of the rangers in the event’s search-and-rescue team for the past five years, providing counseling and emergency medical attention. “It’s a very intense place,” she said. “People sometimes have a meltdown. We help them get what they need.” In one comical incident, Roccanova said she witnessed someone “expressing himself very early in the morning.” The enthusiast stood up and yelled “Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!” very loudly, upsetting nearby campers. For hours, he would chirp; neighbors started in with threats to beat him up, Roccanova said. “I don’t know if he was ‘altered’ or really intent on expressing himself,” she said, but he didn’t stop until one of the rangers “got in his face” and started making rooster noises. The cock-a-doodle-doo brought a smile to the chirpy guy’s face and a crisis was averted. “That’s rangering,” Roccanova said. “We find creative ways to interact with people who are not necessarily thinking linearly.” The festival even has its own de facto general counsel. Terry Gross got involved about 10 years ago by invitation from a few artist friends. He said he was impressed not only with the festival artwork, but with the sense of community and its “gift economy.” “Burning Man is based on giving expecting nothing in return,” he said. A constitutional lawyer by background, Gross said what he saw was free speech in need of protection. The name partner at San Francisco’s Gross & Belsky set about helping to protect the images created in the desert, and the First Amendment rights of the participants. “Part of Burning Man is the freedom to express yourself,” Gross said. “Part of my job came to be to protect that.” To that end, Gross enforces the community’s copyrights to all images. In the early years, he threatened legal action against Pershing and Washoe counties, which he said wanted to cash in on the event by imposing service fees, a matter that was resolved out of court. “These would’ve bankrupted the event,” he said. And in 2002, he took Voyeur Video Inc., a Los Angeles-based pornographic Web site, to court for selling tapes of nude participants online. That settled for an undisclosed amount. Most of the work is pro bono, Gross said, though litigation is paid for in reduced fees. “It’s one of the most rewarding areas of my practice, because I believe the community, the spirit and the artistic vision of the event and the participants is pretty incredible.”

Petra Pasternak

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