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The trial over who owns Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run ball moved Wednesday from the courtroom to the college for an informal airing of legal opinions by four professors. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy, who is presiding over the case, convened a rare roundtable discussion at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. “We’re going to try to come to a consensus of what law applies to this case,” McCarthy told an audience composed mostly of law students who flocked to the Hastings auditorium. “It’s an unusual proceeding but an appropriate proceeding, because we have some unanswered questions that need to be answered,” the judge said, reminding professors that their words were merely informational and would not be taken as testimony. “There is no such thing as an expert witness on the law,” he added. “But a judge may consult with an expert on the law.” At issue is whether plaintiff Alex Popov gained possession of Bonds’ record-setting homer on Oct. 7, 2001, when he ever-so-briefly snagged it in the webbing of his glove before it rolled out. Patrick Hayashi, who is being sued by Popov, snatched the ball a few seconds later. The professors debated whether that grab made the ball — by custom and practice — legally his. McCarthy showed his sense of humor by defining himself in terms of two television newsmen. “Think of me as Jim Lehrer and not Chris Matthews,” the judge said smiling, flanked by the professors. Paul Finkelman, a professor of law at the University of Tulsa, Okla., and Popov’s key expert, compared the first person catching the ball to a person who spears a whale with a harpoon. “It belongs to Mr. Popov because he speared it,” Finkelman said. “It’s not Mr. Hayashi’s ball.” Finkelman also submitted to the court his legal paper — written before Bonds’ homer — titled “Fugitive Baseballs and Abandoned Property: Who Owns the Home Run Ball?” McCarthy was more interested in how to decide ownership and asked, “What’s your definition of possession?” Finkelman said in this case, the issue is that Popov “stopped the forward motion of the ball and had it in his glove.” Hastings law professor Brian Gray told McCarthy in a prepared statement that the common laws of baseball accepted by fans should govern the situation. “A fan who tries to catch a ball, but does not complete the catch, is not the first possessor and has no rights to the baseball,” he said. Gray added that if no one actually catches the ball, “any other fan may simply pick up the loose ball and by doing so that fan becomes the owner of the baseball.” In the lobby of the law school, a television set played over and over the television tape of the scramble for the Bonds ball. First-year law student Lauren Collins watched the loop replay the scene of people clawing and grabbing. “Isn’t it like being at a wedding, when they throw the bouquet?” Collins asked.

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