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SAN FRANCISCO � The photo ops alone make you wonder whether being a U.S. Supreme Court justice is worth the effort. Justice Anthony Kennedy � the Court’s current swing vote � and his predecessor in that position, the recently retired Sandra Day O’Connor, spent last week in San Francisco being bustled from one public event to another. At an Oct. 16 reception in the downtown offices of Thelen, Reid & Priest, Kennedy was posed next to the new plaque marking his eponymous conference room before he ventured into a semiprivate interview with a reporter from the Associated Press. That was a relatively uncomfortable sit-down, as Kennedy apparently had thought it would focus more on his love of San Francisco than his jurisprudence. “I really didn’t expect that the interview was going to be like this,” he told his interviewer. The dialogue also was both photographed and videotaped. The media events didn’t let up the following day, either: the Lawyers’ Club of San Francisco hosted a black-tie dinner for Kennedy, the principal reason of his visit. O’Connor had reason to be hopeful with her first public engagement, Oct. 17, since her rather zealous host � the right-leaning business lobbying group Lead 21 � was stopping journalists at the velvet rope with considerable verve. Lead 21 Executive Director Daniel Trimble invoked the presence of U.S. marshals while giving one reporter the boot. Alas, the next morning O’Connor got her due: After she spent three hours listening to oral arguments as a stand-in member of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, a court staffer announced O’Connor and the other panelists, 9th Circuit Judges Richard Tallman and Susan Graber, would sit for photos � taken by the 9th Circuit’s spokesman, Dave Madden. DOWN TO BUSINESS O’Connor, particularly, was in town for more than the photos � she came to sit by designation on the 9th Circuit on Wednesday and Friday. “Helping us with our enormous docket,” as Graber put it, brought O’Connor a rather typical cross-section of the circuit’s caseload. Among the four cases were arguments in a habeas corpus case, an insurance dispute, and a suit over how the U.S. Forest Service would assert jurisdiction over a road in rural Alpine County in California. The kicker, though, was the last argument she heard: an appeal stemming from the prosecution of Pavlo Lazarenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister, sentenced in August to nine years in federal prison for money laundering, fraud, and extortion. At issue is several million dollars � the exact amount is unclear, but it’s only a small portion of the $100 million or so Lazarenko stashed around the world � in an Antiguan bank that, the government says, was owned almost entirely by Lazarenko and an associate. While Antigua’s government appointed liquidators to assemble the bank’s assets, the U.S. government last year seized the cash, creating a dispute between nations. “This is a fight between two sovereigns, the U.S. and Antigua, about who gets to distribute Lazarenko’s money,” Rory Little, a McDermott, Will & Emery counsel and Hastings College of the Law professor, argued for the liquidators. He asked the panel to either give his clients control of the money or order U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins, who let the United States seize the money, to hold a hearing on the issue, which he has not done so far. O’Connor was silent through all of Little’s initial argument as well as that of Hartley West, an assistant San Francisco U.S. attorney, while Tallman and Graber actively questioned the lawyers. During Little’s rebuttal, Graber suggested his client might have done better to seek a timely resolution in trial court rather than pursuing an appeal. “If you weren’t up here, you’d be down there, and it would be done promptly,” she said. “That’s not true,” Little replied, his already animated demeanor gaining a decibel or two as he argued that the trial court would hold up the money for another 18 months. “There’s no speed here,” he said. It was during Little’s rebuttal that O’Connor spoke up. And her question was a fitting one: On whether there should be a separate hearing, she asked, “Has that issue ever gone to the Supreme Court?” MAN ABOUT TOWN While O’Connor was considering such heady material, Kennedy had a comparable vacation. On Tuesday night, he received the Lawyers’ Club of San Francisco’s Legends of the Law award at the Palace Hotel, where he spoke to a tuxedoed and evening-gowned crowd of about 400, many of them from the 29 law firms that had shelled out $2,300 per table to attend the event. They got the pleasure of meeting the affable justice and hearing him talk about the years he spent as a San Francisco lawyer. Light anecdotes transformed into a weightier discussion of historical legal culture. Kennedy spoke about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when, he said, lawyers sought refuge in the idealism of the law and in the “respect and affections” of their colleagues in the bar. That went over well with Thelen associate Patrick Ryan, the president of the Lawyers’ Club and chief orchestrator of the event. It had “the right balance of humor, emotion, and philosophy,” he said.
Justin Scheck is a reporter for The Recorder , an ALM publication. Recorder reporter Petra Pasternak contributed to this story.

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