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Judge Charles Breyer’s federal courtroom could have passed for the Hall of Justice on Wednesday afternoon. First there was the docket, which included motions in a prostitution case and two pot cases � one of which is likely to draw in Martin Sabelli, a former assistant S.F. public defender. And then there was the crowd � the requisite front-row sleeper snoring sonorously through much of the proceedings and a regiment of middle-aged marijuana activists whose compadres protested outside the federal building. Even the pot people were flustered. “It looks like a free-for-all in here,” sniffed one older member of the cannabis contingent. They were there in support of the med pot movement’s cause celebre, erstwhile pot writer Ed Rosenthal. After having his conviction for growing marijuana overturned by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals earlier this year, Rosenthal was back in court to face a new trial � and also to figure out what to do about legal representation, since his former lawyer’s in jail and the attorney he plans to retain is stuck in a state trial. The pot people were eventually gratified, but only after Breyer � rebuke by minor rebuke � dealt with other matters. The first lawyer to face him was Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirstin Ault. She made the mistake of saying that an unrelated pot distribution case could face ongoing delays due to budgetary issues. “The government has run out of money. It’s always distressing to hear that,” he said. “Do I have to wait until April 15?” If there was not sufficient cash to continue the prosecution, the judge added, he would dismiss the case. Or else “we can have a bake sale. Maybe that’s not appropriate to say in a marijuana case.” Of course, the crowd-drawing event Wednesday � the latest hearing in the seemingly interminable saga of High Times magazine columnist Rosenthal � did not disappoint. But before Breyer could hear it, his docket took a salacious swerve. Lawyers for a defendant in the former human trafficking case dubbed “Operation Gilded Cage” by the San Francisco U.S. attorney’s office argued that the FBI improperly searched their client’s house. Since being indicted last year, the case has followed a troubled trajectory: The trafficking allegations were dropped, and it has devolved into a prostitution and alien-harboring case, in which many of the 29 defendants have pleaded out to lesser charges. “The government is recognizing that they have overcharged this case,” Steven Gruel, a lawyer for accused brothel proprietor Anthony Lau, told Breyer. Gruel argued that there was no probable cause to search Lau’s house, since it had not been tied to any alleged crimes. Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Axelrod demurred: “I don’t accept Mr. Gruel’s characterization at all, and I think he’s mistaken.” Breyer ordered the government to turn over a “road map” of its prosecution to the defense. But the lawyers didn’t discuss the most gripping recent issue: On Wednesday, Gruel filed a motion saying that one witness “told officials that she and other women recognized some of the agents who participated in the search as ‘customers,’” and other witnesses “also recognized personnel from the raids as being customers.” While that issue will have to wait, there was no shortage of tension in the latest hearing for Rosenthal, convicted in 2003 for growing marijuana. During the trial, Breyer refused to let the jury hear that Rosenthal’s growing operation was sanctioned by state law. Though Breyer sentenced Rosenthal to just a day in jail, jurors later said that had they known everything, they wouldn’t have convicted. The Ninth Circuit vacated the verdict over juror misconduct, which sent the issue back to Breyer, who considered it Wednesday along with the case of Rosenthal’s onetime co-defendant, Richard Watts. Watts was indicted with Rosenthal, but had his case separated after suffering a car accident before trial. He was never tried, but was reindicted � along with Rosenthal � on Oct. 13 with a cornucopia of additional charges, including money laundering. Watts scored a quick victory Wednesday when Breyer agreed with arguments by his lawyer � Julia Jayne of Campbell & Jayne � and dismissed the original charges against him because the government never brought its case, even though Watts was ready to stand trial in 2003. “There has been a violation of the Speedy Trial Act, and there is no justification for not bringing him to trial,” Breyer told Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan. Breyer added that he wasn’t sure whether he’ll dismiss with or without prejudice, meaning the charges could be revisited. That was about the best news Bevan got, since Breyer then indicated that the government’s new charges could well hurt its chances of convicting Rosenthal again. While Breyer originally excluded the state med pot law as evidence � a decision, he pointed out, that the Ninth Circuit upheld � the addition of money-laundering charges could make it material. “It’s a very different case,” Breyer said. “In the money-laundering count, the defendant’s state of mind becomes very much an issue.” Thus, he said, it could be important that the jury hear evidence that Rosenthal and Watts thought their actions were legal. Bevan seemed less than pleased by the hearing, though he did say that he was perfectly comfortable with a new trial that would admit the state law as evidence. Breyer bristled at Bevan’s invocation of Rosenthal’s public statements that his trial had been unfair. “What is the purpose of this prosecution?” he asked Bevan. “If in fact you’ve indicted him a second time for something he said after his first trial, let me remind you of the First Amendment,” Breyer said. But one major question for Rosenthal went unanswered: Since his earlier lawyer, Tony Serra, went to prison for tax evasion, he has decided to retain Sabelli, who is currently handling the trial of David Hill, an accused cop murderer, in San Francisco Superior Court. Breyer said the lawyer issue wouldn’t affect his moving the case along. “The issue is not Mr. Sabelli or Mr. Serra or anyone else,” he said.

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