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Where were you when the lights went out? California Chief Justice Ronald George was sitting in his office in San Francisco’s State Building at about noon Wednesday when rolling blackouts ordered by state regulators shut down everything, including computers. “We had just finished our Wednesday conference,” George said at about 1:45 p.m., “and I am now working in my chambers by sunlight.” The chief justice wasn’t alone. The blackout powered down not only the Supreme Court, but also California’s 1st District Court of Appeal and the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts — both located inside the State Building. All three were dark for almost exactly two hours, from about 11:50 a.m. until 1:50 p.m. Hastings College of the Law, one block east of the State Building, was also shut down for two hours, temporarily trapping four students in three separate elevators, according to spokeswoman Fran Marsh. “As far as I know, they were all students,” Marsh said. “Everyone was free within 10 to 15 minutes, and there were no injuries.” Classes, which had been canceled during the power outage, resumed in the early afternoon. The shutdown that hit Hastings and the court offices was part of a series of rolling blackouts ordered across Northern California because of severe shortages exacerbated by weather and extreme demand. Officials at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the California Independent System Operator estimated that 200,000 to 500,000 customers were powerless for 90 minutes to two hours at a time. The patterns were often weird. While the State Building was powerless for two hours, the San Francisco Superior Court across the street to the west and the Federal Building on the immediate north were not affected. However, the superior court’s annex at Polk and Turk streets, directly west of the Federal Building, was in the dark. “I understand that across the street was affected,” said a clerk in the U.S. district court in the Federal Building, “but we’re not.” Lynn Holton, spokeswoman for the AOC, said the shutdown caused some problems, but for the most part work that didn’t require computers continued. “The phones are working, so we can all make phone calls,” she said. “There’s time to do reading [on court documents], and I know people are still in meetings.” Chief Justice George was irked, though, that there was no warning. “We were told if there were going to be rolling blackouts, we would get five or 10 minutes’ notice, and that was not done,” he said. “Many of our staff members were in the course of working on documents and lost their work product.” George also said that Wednesday conference orders, usually released for publication by midday, would be late. The 1st District, meanwhile, was in the midst of oral arguments when the lights failed. “However,” clerk-administrator Diana Herbert said, “oral argument continued. There was enough light for them to see.” Herbert said the timing of the power failure was actually fortuitous. “It didn’t occur until after 11:30 and went back on at ten till two,” she said, “so it was mainly during the lunch hour.” Law firms, meanwhile, were fortunate. None reported power outages early in the day, but were anticipating them later based on warnings by property managers and city officials. “We were prepared,” said Mozhgan Mizban, director of client services for Cooley Godward, which had been told by Palo Alto officials to expect a blackout between 2 and 3 p.m. “We logged off around a quarter till,” she said, “and at a quarter after they said the blackout was postponed until sometime between 6 and 10 p.m.” Conservation measures were in place in some firms, such as Farella Braun & Martel, where employees were under order to turn off office lights when possible. Meanwhile, contingency plans were being put in place at many locales, just in case power went out Wednesday night or, as feared by power regulators, blackouts continue today. State Bar of California officials, for instance, developed emergency plans for both the San Francisco and Los Angeles offices Wednesday. “People are being told that if lights go out, they are to stand by their desks and await instructions,” said Robert Hawley, the Bar’s deputy executive director. “Employees will either be asked to remain at their stations or told to go home.” Marsh of Hastings said faculty members and students cheered when the lights came back on Wednesday. And she said she’ll be better prepared today. “I’ll certainly be bringing in a flashlight.” Contributing to this story were Recorder reporters Brenda Sandburg, Kirsten Andelman, Renee Deger and Michael Joe. An Associated Press report also was used.

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