The trial of Hamlet last week was a disappointment only in one respect: The jury deadlocked.

Otherwise, things went well for two Berkeley defense lawyers, Miles Ehrlich and Cristina Arguedas, as well as their opponents and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who presided over the fake Shakespearean trial at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center last week.

The justice approached Ehrlich � his former clerk, and an ex-federal prosecutor in San Francisco � last year, and asked if he would take part on the prosecution’s side in a trial over Hamlet’s sanity. And Ehrlich brought in Arguedas, an ex-federal public defender who now specializes in white-collar cases.

Their opponents were Abbe Lowell, a partner at Chadbourne & Parke in D.C. who specializes in white-collar defense, and Court TV host Catherine Crier.

Before a crowd of 1,100, the prosecuting lawyers did their best to convince a 12-person jury that Hamlet wasn’t crazy � that his killings were rational, and that he should be held accountable.

“Instead of treating Hamlet like this cold-blooded, callous killer,” said Ehrlich, of Berkeley’s Ramsey & Ehrlich, the prosecutors were able to use Hamlet’s eloquence and careful planning to try to prove he was a sane killer.

Alas, the jury didn’t quite agree. After deliberating for 20 minutes, they deadlocked. (Ehrlich points out, though, that the burden was on the defense to prove Hamlet’s insanity.)

It was Arguedas’ first experience as a prosecutor. “I think it’s really easy,” said the partner at Arguedas, Cassman & Headley. “I suspected that, and now I know it’s true.”

Both Ehrlich and Arguedas said they appreciated the opportunity to read “Hamlet” again. “I would never have been reading Shakespeare, especially now, and I really enjoyed it,” Arguedas said. She added that by reading the play with the specific purpose of working up a case, she got a new window into Hamlet as a character.

Ehrlich said the case reminded him a lot of the white-collar prosecutions he’s handling now, where culpability is based on a defendant’s state of mind, and whether his client intended to commit a crime.

“So much, particularly in white-collar work, is having to find out from people’s words and actions, to get a window into their mind,” he said. “And here, you didn’t have to work with some boring transcript.”

Justin Scheck


A century-old international law organization based in Washington, D.C., has expanded west, planting firmer roots in the Bay Area legal community.

In a pilot project aiming to bring together academics, human rights organizations, and private and public sector attorneys, the nonprofit American Society of International Law, which publishes the American Journal of International Law, has launched ASIL-West � a new western arm being organized from Northern California.

“So much international work goes on here; it seemed like a natural place to begin to build community,” said Diane Marie Amann, a law professor at UC-Davis and a society member co-chairing the effort.

Although the society’s 4,000 members worldwide have always included Bay Area legal professionals, more members have traditionally been from the East Coast, where the society held its conferences.

The pilot project that started last month is the first attempt to organize the western members and plan events locally.

The society isn’t just for international law practitioners, according to Amann. She said immigration attorneys, prosecutors and defense attorneys would benefit from its conferences, particularly when dealing with defendants from other countries or crimes that cross national borders.

“International law is a burgeoning field,” said ASIL-West co-chairman J. Kirk Boyd, a human rights lawyer and co-director of the Berkeley-based International Convention on Human Rights Research Project.

Millie Lapidario