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Two lawyers who failed to show up for arguments in a February case in the California Supreme Court could face perjury charges if either or both lied to the court. In a written order Wednesday, the court directed the State Bar Court, in conjunction with the Bar’s chief prosecutor, to conduct an investigation, complete with evidentiary hearings, to determine whether Allen Kent or Raul Aguilar lied to the justices “in writing or orally (under penalty of perjury or otherwise).” The order, following up a March 9 verbal command for a State Bar inquiry, also asks investigators to determine whether Kent breached an ethical obligation to his client or the court by not notifying he would miss arguments on Feb. 10. It also asks whether Aguilar should have known arguments were under way that day in Sacramento and whether he breached any professional or ethical obligation by not appearing himself or assigning another lawyer from his firm. The order, signed by all seven justices, requires a written report from the State Bar by April 30. Also on Wednesday, the Supreme Court denied a media request to televise the trial of Scott Peterson, a Modesto man charged with killing his pregnant wife. In addition, lawyer Clifford Chanler’s bid to overturn a trial court ruling that exposes him to suit for alleged malpractice in nearly 300 Proposition 65 cases was also denied. The Kent-Aguilar saga began on Feb. 10 when Kent was a no-show for oral arguments in a Supreme Court case in which Aguilar, his former boss, was also his client. Contacted while court was in session, Aguilar said he wasn’t aware that the firm had an argument that day. Kent contends that Aguilar constructively terminated him five days before arguments, while Aguilar claims Kent resigned and didn’t mention the pending Supreme Court case. Kent also maintains that as an ex-employee of Aguilar & Sebastinelli, he had no authority to contact the court. Called into court on March 9, both men continued their finger-pointing as the justices tried in vain to get answers concerning who knew what and why someone hadn’t simply telephoned the court in advance. Finally, Chief Justice Ronald George, clearly irritated and tired of asking “further unanswered questions,” retired to confer with the other justices. Upon their return, George said “questions of credibility” required the State Bar to investigate further. In Wednesday’s order, the court said that an investigation was necessary “in light of the direct conflict in the factual statements (under penalty of perjury and otherwise) made by the attorneys to this court, and in view of substantial questions that remain whether either or both attorneys violated their professional duties to their client and their obligations to this court.” Attorneys who mislead or deceive courts could be slapped with a misdemeanor under California Business & Professions Code Section 6128, which is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment, a $2,500 fine or both. Aguilar couldn’t be reached for comment, but Kent’s lawyer, San Francisco solo practitioner Philip Ryan, said he thought the order was “wonderful.” “It’s exactly what we asked for,” he said. “We’ve asked for a factual finding that Allen Kent complied with his ethical obligations. “What is very, very clear to me is that what this court is seeking, as it should, is a factual determination as to whether perjury has been committed. I have no doubt that perjury has been committed, and no doubt that Raul Aguilar will not be a lawyer much longer.” The case is In re Kent and Aguilar, S099667. In the Peterson case, several high-powered media outlets, including the Courtroom Television Network, NBC, ABC and CBS, had asked the court to overturn a decision by Judge Alfred Delucchi, sitting by assignment in San Mateo County Superior Court, to ban TV cameras from the courtroom. They had argued that the prohibition violated the First Amendment and the state Constitution. “The right of the public and press to observe criminal trials is well established as a constitutional mandate,” Kelli Sager, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Seattle’s Davis Wright Tremaine, wrote in court papers. “But where, as here, it is impossible for more than a small fraction of interested citizens to attend the trial in person, meaningful observation of the trial can take place only if the proceedings are televised.” The case is Courtroom Television Network LLC v. Superior Court (Peterson), S122957. In the Chanler case, Clifford Chanler, co-founder of As You Sow, a group dedicated to enforcing the state’s toxics control law, asked the high court to reverse a ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer that let the nonprofit group pursue malpractice claims involving 298 Prop 65 cases. As You Sow sued Chanler in 1999, alleging that Chanler had collected too much in fees and costs since co-founding the group in 1992. Chanler moved for summary judgment on the ground that the action was barred by the statute of limitations. But Judge Kramer held that the time to sue had been tolled by Chanler’s continued representation of As You Sow in three of the 298 cases. The group argued that time had been tolled according to the “continuous representation” rule contained in Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.6. Chanler’s lawyers at Oakland’s Dell’Ario & LeBoeuf contended, however, that the continuous representation rule “operates as a narrow exception” that applies “only so long as the attorney still represents the client in the same ‘specific subject matter.’” Chanler’s involvement in three cases did not toll the statute for the other 295, they said. Dell’Ario & LeBoeuf partner Charles Dell’Ario said Wednesday that he was disappointed. “This is a big, unresolved question,” he said, “and is precisely the kind of question our Supreme Court should speak on.” The case is Chanler v. Superior Court (As You Sow), S122513.

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