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In an Oakland, Calif., federal courtroom, the lawyering has been as unconventional as the crew of onlookers. For three weeks, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken’s courtroom has been the stage for airing a 12-year-old conspiracy theory and the efforts of a team of government attorneys who want to pull the curtain on the controversy once and for all. In The Estate of Judi Bari v. Doyle, C91-1057, the plaintiffs hope to convince a jury that Earth First organizers Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were unjustly blamed for a May 1990 explosion that tore apart a Subaru station wagon while they were inside it. Cherney and Bari were never charged, but they were arrested shortly after the blast that shattered Bari’s pelvis. At the time, investigators said the activists were injured by a bomb they planned to use in anti-logging protests. The suit alleges that the FBI and Oakland police trampled environmentalists’ First and Fourth Amendment rights. The bombing accusations were part of a scheme to chill Redwood Summer, an Earth First anti-logging campaign, the complaint says. Bari’s estate and Cherney, the plaintiffs in the suit, seek millions in damages. The Department of Justice and Oakland’s attorneys, meanwhile, have argued that the case is an elaborate soapbox for the anti-logging protesters. The trial pits a team of manicured, dark-suited attorneys from the Department of Justice and the Oakland city attorney’s office against a squad of aging hippie lawyers who favor psychedelic-patterned ties. The jury, composed of nine women and three men, is a well-dressed, meticulously groomed group that laughs politely at the lawyers’ jokes and closely follows each exchange. The plaintiffs’ team includes J. Tony Serra, who recently defended former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson. Serra, sporting his trademark thinning white ponytail, offered up many dramatic moments. He tangled with former FBI agent Phillip Sena on the witness stand for more than two hours Wednesday and Thursday. The well-known criminal defense attorney has locked horns countless times with police witnesses, and the steely ex-agent Sena — who said he has testified more times than he could count — was more than a match. At times during the jousting, Serra shrugged and rounded his shoulders like an impatient prizefighter, and Sena fired questions back at the lawyer until the judge had to silence him. Serra’s soft, yet raspy drawl rose to a shout when the agent insisted a key FBI informant was merely a witness. “You are talking out of both sides of your mouth!” Serra exclaimed, pacing away from the podium. Serra and a succession of liberal lawyers have kept the civil suit alive for more than a decade, even after Bari died of cancer in 1997. And that has yielded a case that has been a spectacle both inside and outside the courtroom. MIXED BAG During jury selection, Earth First supporters milled outside the federal court complex carrying larger than life-sized, papier-mache figures of major figures in the trial, such as Bari. Bari’s carefully crafted figure even carries a fiddle, which she was known for playing. Each day lawyers watching the trial rub shoulders with faithful Bari supporters who pack the courtroom — many of them veteran activists from assorted left-leaning causes. For the most part, the activists are clad in loose-fitting, well-worn clothes. The women wear scant cosmetics, and many of the men have ample gray in their long hair and untamed beards. During breaks, they while away the time chatting about local protests. When police and FBI agents try to downplay the plaintiffs’ case on the witness stand, the Bari supporters softly hiss and suck their teeth in disgust. The rest of the plaintiffs’ team includes San Francisco civil rights attorney Dennis Cunningham, Berkeley, Calif., solo Robert Bloom, and Oakland attorney William Simpich Jr., who represented Oakland public housing tenants in the drug eviction case that recently was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Cunningham, a lean man with a beard and short, snow-white hair, has been a true believer, working on the case almost from its inception. He’s made two trips to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of his clients, and he questions witnesses with the zeal of a street preacher. Cunningham’s main line of attack is the logic of Oakland police’s early theory that the explosion was the result of Bari and Cherney’s botched attempt to transport a pipe bomb. Cunningham’s approach kept the judge busy, as she frequently chastised him for asking argumentative questions, interrupting witnesses and padding questions with his opinions. Early on, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs’ side couldn’t put on a witness who was an expert about the FBI’s past efforts to investigate U.S. radical groups. And Wilken and Cunningham clashed again when he tried to steer his questions to the FBI’s defunct anti-terrorism program, COINTELPRO. “I have ruled on this question,” Wilken said, an edge creeping into her usually calm voice. “You may sit down,” she said to Cunningham. By the time Cunningham questioned Bari’s daughter, Lisa Bari, on the stand, he had apparently calmed down. His questions were consequently easier to follow and he sparred less with the judge. Bloom, the Berkeley criminal defense attorney who once represented former Black Panther Geronimo Pratt, asked apparently casual questions but at times would get excited and jab his finger accusingly in a witness’s direction. While questioning Oakland police investigator and named defendant Robert Chenault, Bloom focused on Alameda County District Attorney Thomas Orloff, who was a high-ranking deputy at the time of the bombing case — and may be called as a witness. Bloom also asked questions about First District Court of Appeal Justice Carol Corrigan, who was the Alameda County judge who approved a search warrant for the case. “You knew that [Orloff] has a friendly relationship with her?” Bloom asked Chenault, noting that Corrigan was a former county prosecutor. Chenault said no. “Have you heard of the blue wall of silence?” Bloom asked later, when zeroing in on what he sees as inconsistencies in the FBI and police accounts of the investigation. CONSERVATIVE DEFENSE On the defense side, lawyers have countered the plaintiffs team’s histrionics with measured and precise questions. Their clients — police officers and FBI agents who worked on the case — are seasoned witnesses who stick to their stories and volunteer few details unless the plaintiffs’ lawyers ask them a painstakingly precise question. The defense team includes Department of Justice heavy hitter R. Joseph Sher, a robust man with thinning salt-and-pepper hair who has defended government agents involved in the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco. Also representing the FBI is DOJ attorney Dennis Barghaan. The city of Oakland is using in-house litigators Deputy City Attorney Maria Bee and supervising Deputy City Attorney William Simmons. Bee favors tailored suits and wears her shoulder-length hair in braids; Simmons is conservatively dressed and has a military buzz cut. The case unites the DOJ legal team and Oakland’s lawyers in an awkward marriage. Although both defendants worked to drill holes in the foundation of the case, at times Oakland’s lawyers appeared to score points for the plaintiffs’ side so they could convince jurors that — if the plaintiffs win — the FBI should shoulder most of the blame. For example, both Oakland attorneys and Department of Justice attorneys hammered the plaintiffs’ explosives expert, Sid Woodcock. Woodcock testified that the car bomb was placed under Bari’s seat. But early on, investigators said it was placed on the rear floor, which would have put the explosive in plain view while it was being transported by Bari and Cherney. Sher, the DOJ attorney, asked the expert if he knew whether Bari was tall or short. That would have determined how the seat was adjusted, and it would have influenced Woodcock’s theory, Sher said. Woodcock appeared startled. “Now, it seems important to me. Was the lady tall or short?” the witness asked Sher, prompting the judge to remind Woodcock that witnesses can’t ask questions. Simmons, the Oakland lawyer, later questioned Woodcock’s claim that he only works for attorneys with non-violent clients. “You were hired by Timothy McVeigh’s attorneys?” Simmons asked, referring to the convicted Oklahoma City bomber. “You got paid, didn’t you?” “I worked for his lawyers,” Woodcock stressed. Another lawyer from the city attorney’s office seemed to punch some holes in the FBI’s case when FBI bomb investigator Frank Doyle was on the stand. Doyle denied that he told Oakland police that nails that were attached to the bomb matched nails in the trunk of Bari’s car — a theory that later proved to be untrue. But Bee read part of an earlier deposition where Doyle did, indeed, say that. Doyle, who claimed that he wasn’t a bomb expert, said he didn’t know that he was referred to in a key affidavit as an “expert.” Bee again read Doyle’s words from the deposition aloud, quoting a place where the witness said he knew the police called him an expert in the document. The plaintiffs’ lawyers say the estimated six-week trial will give Bari’s loved ones a chance to speak out about the explosion that has haunted them for 12 years. Lisa Bari testified that the accusations about the bombing dogged her mother until she died. “She was really adamant about clearing her name,” said Bari, wiping away tears.

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