Are you a Republican? Do you like press conferences? Hate Barry Bonds? Have a passion for investigating Silicon Valley executives � and also for managing a bunch of government lawyers in various stages of disgruntlement?

If you answered yes to any � or preferably all � of these questions, call (415) 389-6800, and ask for Chip.

That’ll get you in touch with Vigo “Chip” Nielsen Jr., a partner at the Marin County-based government firm Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor. He’s a member of a three-person local committee vetting applicants interested in the vacancy created earlier this month when the Department of Justice decided to jettison the Northern District’s current top prosecutor, Kevin Ryan.

The committee, made up of Nielsen � who has volunteered to solicit applications � former U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello and ex-federal Judge Eugene Lynch, is preparing to be pretty busy over the next few weeks, since everyone wants a new appointment soon, and little work has been done so far.

Indeed, Nielsen said Wednesday, Ryan’s ouster took him by surprise. “I did not know there was going to be a change until I read it in the newspaper,” he said, adding that “there was no work in advance” by the committee.

The committee is the same group of people that recommended Ryan for the job in 2002. The process narrowed the pool of applicants and sent a recommendation to Eric George and Gerald Parsky, the Los Angeles lawyers in charge of making recommendations for certain California appointees to officials in D.C. Same thing this time; George said the San Francisco group is “vetting candidates and supplying a slate of candidates for possible selection by the president.”

There are several factors limiting the pool of candidates, beginning with the difficulty of finding a Republican in Northern California. Then there’s the issue of a short tenure: With President Bush having less than two years left in office, anyone who leaves private practice would be sacrificing not just two years of good pay, but another three years after leaving, due to conflicts they’d encounter in any cases involving the office.

Those factors, combined with the fact that D.C. officials, according to sources with knowledge of the process, want to find someone who can boost morale and provide some stability for office personnel, point to one person as the top candidate: Russoniello.

Currently senior counsel at Cooley Godward Kronish, the 65-year-old former U.S. attorney retains the respect of local prosecutors and defense lawyers, and wouldn’t be giving up a chunk of five years in the middle of his career to take the job.

When asked last week, Russoniello wouldn’t confirm or deny that he’s gotten a call asking him to apply for the job, but said he hasn’t ruled himself out as a candidate. “It’s not out of the question,” he said.

Justin Scheck


Terry O’Reilly says he’s going where few aviation disaster litigators have gone before. His firm, San Mateo-based O’Reilly & Danko, recently teamed up in an international joint venture with Stewarts, a British litigation boutique that advises claimants in aviation accidents.

The firms will work side by side preparing international disaster cases for trial, including research, investigation and analysis, O’Reilly said. Where possible, they will seek a local firm to handle the litigation in the country of the crash.

Their first joint effort surrounds Adam Air Indonesia, Flight KI-574, a Boeing 737 jetliner that took off from Indonesia’s main island of Java en route to Manado and reportedly crashed on the island of Sulawesi on Jan. 1. Ninety-six passengers and six crew members were on board and the main wreckage has not yet been found, the California firm said in a press release last week.

The O’Reilly firm and Stewarts brought in an Indonesian firm, O.C. Kaligis & Associates of Jakarta, to help the victims’ families determine the cause of the crash.

“The reason this approach works � it is a very sophisticated application of the abilities of each firm,” O’Reilly said. “There is no firm in Indonesia that can prepare and try a case against a Boeing or a McDonnell Douglas.”

O’Reilly said working with Stewarts also makes sense because the London firm has access to the world reinsurance center, including Lloyd’s of London. Though Lloyd’s is widely known for insuring, for example, Tina Turner’s legs, it also specializes in aviation insurance, and according to O’Reilly, almost any aviation case is eventually negotiated in London.

“In the last year, I have had three major helicopter cases,” he said. “In each case, the negotiations were eventually done with a London-based reinsurer.”

Asia is a particular sweet spot for plaintiff lawyers like O’Reilly, who says low-budget airlines are taking off and crashing at horrible frequency there.

“In Asia is where the incompetent airlines are flying expensive equipment,” O’Reilly said. “They buy used 737s from world carriers, and their maintenance and standards of operation are appalling.”

Petra Pasternak