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The defense had just begun its opening statements in a disability access case against Clint Eastwood’s Monterey County, Calif., resort Wednesday when the judge started admonishing the plaintiff’s lawyer about his behavior. And after the jury had filed out of the courtroom, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California James Ware warned both attorneys to quell their emotions in front of the jury and instructed one of them to stop smirking during the other’s remarks. “I expect your decorum in the courtroom should remain appropriate at all times,” Ware said. Ware specifically asked the plaintiff’s attorney, John Burris, to wipe the amused smile off his face during defense attorney Charles Keller’s comments because the jury could see it. The judge also told Burris to refrain from making facial expressions that indicated he took issue with Keller’s statements. Earlier, Ware reprimanded Burris for interrupting Keller’s comments, saying, “It’s improper behavior. It’s rude.” In what has become a highly politicized and publicized case, jurors heard the first day of testimony in Zum Brunnen v. Mission Ranch, C97-220668 JW, and also caught their first glimpse of the legendary film actor at the defense table. At issue is whether Eastwood’s resort, which he purchased for nearly $5 million in 1986, meets state and federal access standards. Diane zum Brunnen, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, filed a civil suit in January 1997 contending the 19th century dairy farm turned resort violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and California disability access statutes. Rest rooms, the office entryway, the parking lot and guest rooms were not accessible, according to the complaint. In documents filed with the court and during opening statements, Keller questioned whether the Alameda, Calif., woman visited the Monterey County ranch determined to file a lawsuit. Wednesday morning, both sides outlined their case. Burris, in narrative form, walked jurors through the zum Brunnens’ two visits to Mission Ranch in April 1995 and January 1996. Burris, an Oakland, Calif., attorney well known for handling civil rights cases, particularly police brutality cases, said that despite millions of dollars of renovations to the facilities, the office building, parking lot, bathrooms and guest rooms were not accessible. He noted that such an extensive renovation triggers an obligation to make the building accessible. “Mr. Eastwood spent $6.7 million to remodel, renovate, demolish and rebuild various aspects of Mission Ranch. Once you remodel you need to make sure it’s accessible,” Burris said. The lawsuit wasn’t the first notice Eastwood received that the ranch was in compliance, Burris said. Zum Brunnen had written two letters to Eastwood about access issues. There was no response to the first letter and the second, a certified letter, was returned. “Mr. Eastwood does not follow the rules,” Burris said. “The defendant is asking for damages of whatever. The important thing is a determination that there was a violation of these rules when it was easy to follow the rules.” Keller — starting his opening statements by drawing a time line on a dry-erase board — told the jury he would try not to bore them. He conceded that when zum Brunnen visited Mission Ranch, a ramp to the front office had not yet been built and handicapped parking was configured incorrectly. But these violations have been remedied. Keller, of Monterey’s Fenton & Keller, questioned whether zum Brunnen and her husband even visited the ranch in January 1996 and if they did, the couple never intended to stay the night. Keller said the zum Brunnens did not produce the receipt from the dinner they said they ate at Mission Ranch. Keller said a handicapped room was available and according to hotel records, was not rented out that night. Zum Brunnen contends that they paid cash for the dinner and that when they asked about a handicapped-accessible room, the front desk clerk told them the only one at the resort was already rented. Keller, calling Eastwood an “easy target,” also questioned the motive of the plaintiff, who filed the lawsuit a year after her visit to Mission Ranch. “You would expect that if you’ve done somebody harm, you’d know that before you got sued,” Keller said. Proponents on both sides have used the suit to do some political grandstanding in front of the federal courthouse to an eager crowd of journalists. Eastwood held a press conference outside the San Jose, Calif., courthouse Tuesday saying he was on the right side of the law. In May, the former mayor of Carmel, Calif., testified before a congressional committee that was considering restricting when businesses could be sued under the ADA. Eastwood said lawyers were using ADA cases like this to charge large legal fees. Disabled advocates, many in wheelchairs, staged a press event in front of the courthouse Wednesday. Some held signs while others passed out information to reporters in the courtroom. Testimony began Wednesday. The trial is expected to last a week.

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