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The fate of Barry Bonds’ record-setting 73rd home-run ball may rest with a group of legal experts sitting around discussing the application of property law. After all the evidence has been submitted at trial, which could be this week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy has indicated he may convene a roundtable to bandy about various theories of ownership. At issue in the court trial is who will own the ball, which has an estimated worth of $1 million: Alex Popov, who initially caught it but then lost it in a scrum, or Patrick Hayashi, who emerged from the pile with it. Michael Lee, counsel for Hayashi, suggested during pretrial hearings that the roundtable might help McCarthy better understand the issues. “I think everyone seems to think this is a case that may be important in the law of property,” Lee said Friday during a break in the trial. Martin Triano, attorney for plaintiff Popov, agreed that McCarthy should consider convening the informational session that would not be part of the trial testimony. “The judge picked it up and ran with it,” Triano said, agreeing that a group of legal experts may be of more help to the judge than a series of witnesses and testimony by the two litigants. “This case from a legal standpoint is a case of first impression,” Triano said. “It will be one that will be followed for a long time.” McCarthy got a call from his former Hastings College of Law professor, Marsha Cohen, who suggested to him he hold the session at his alma mater. “He thought it was a nifty idea,” said Cohen, who teaches torts, and food and drug law. She is trying to work out a time and place for the roundtable at the law school. “I hope it’s going to happen, because there is more space here than the courtroom, and the students could come,” Cohen said. Triano plans to call three experts, beginning with Roger Bernhardt, a property law professor at Golden Gate University School of Law. The attorney said Bernhardt will argue that Popov is the rightful owner by virtue of making the initial catch and claiming ownership. “Bernhardt will say that there is not a test of time” to establish ownership, Triano said. “A catch is a catch and it takes a nanosecond.” Also arguing Popov’s case will be Paul Finkelman, who Triano said is not a lawyer but a professor of law at the University of Tulsa College of Law. “He got his doctorate in the history of law,” Triano said. Finkelman has written an article, the attorney said, called “Fugitive Baseballs and Abandoned Property: Who Owns the Home Run Ball?” Triano’s third expert will be Jan Stiglitz, a professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego, where he teaches torts and sports law. “He will testify about conversion … when your property is wrongfully taken from you and you have a right to retrieve it.” Lee, a San Francisco solo, said he plans to have Hastings property law professor Brian Gray tell McCarthy why, from a fan’s perspective, the law should uphold Hayashi’s claim of ownership. “It’s always been our position that to make a proper decision in this case, the court has to carefully consider what the fans in the stands understand and respect as ownership of balls hit into the stands,” Lee said. He said that understanding means that a ball hit into the stands is “fair game.” “You continue to look for it until you pick it up and show it to everybody, as Patrick did. “I want to stress this doesn’t mean a free-for-all,” the attorney said. “It doesn’t mean the law of the jungle.” Lee said Triano’s professors wrongly dismiss the stands activity as a vital factor in ownership. “There are certain legal principles that I think are applicable,” Lee said, “and among them is the whole concept of totality of circumstances … the common law of the stands.”

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