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Friday, September 06, 2002

Part II: Pavlovich v. Superior Court (or: why you may have to learn to love the California court system if you're posting on the Web)

First, a journalistic take on the proceedings: Shannon Lafferty's article for The Recorder, posted at (It's a good bet Shannon was sitting immediately to my right in the courtroom. We were both writing furiously, and she -- if it was Shannon -- liked my footwear.) And now we resume our regularly scheduled weblogging, already in progress... The California Supreme Court gets around. Four months out of the year it sits in San Francisco (January, March, May, September). Los Angeles is home to the Court for another four months (April, June, October and December). The Court has two annual sessions in the state capital, Sacramento (February, November). And, during July and August, the Court takes a well-deserved break. Yesterday's Pavlovich argument thus took place at the newly renovated Earl Warren Building in San Francisco, where the Court regularly has heard cases since 1923. A lush watercolor rendering of the Court's main locale is here (found via Nadia Akel's entry at this site). Happily, the Civic Center renovations have not interfered with the one, true way (nods to b!X) to get to the Court from the North Bay: Golden Gate Bridge (would not be surprised if soon you need a $20 to get across) to Lombard to Van Ness to Golden Gate, hang a left. Check the lot on Larkin for space; if full, brave Civic Center. The Court's ancestral SF home has been renovated, not replaced. At around 8:30 a.m., cramped elevators creak to the fourth floor courtroom antechamber, releasing car after car of initially dumbstruck passengers into a throng first twenty, then forty, then sixty strong and growing, milling down the narrow adjacent hallways and stairwells. It's not difficult to pick out counsel in the calendared cases, cooling their heels with the onlookers, darkly suited, barely able to heft binders with with six-inch spines and hundreds of side tabs in precise, white regiments. At 8:45, obliging the security staff, the crowd politely and nervously consigns every cell phone, laptop (real-time blogging? not this quarter-decade), MP3 player (in notably high numbers), PDA and recording device to modified coat-check cubbyholes. Also away goes the luggage attached to those who have just flown in; no room for extraneous gear. An entire class of law students from USF marvels at how long it has taken the parties and Court to get to this point. Some who have wandered over from Hastings next door talk about the Web and what it means to toss little stones into its stream. Eventually, some deference is given to those there to argue, who come forward and go on in. The rest of us follow, one by one, scanned, x-rayed, un-wristwatched, re-wristwatched. Into the tiny, tall courtroom and seats four rows deep, nine wide, times three. "[C]ompletely restored with oak paneling and a 30-foot-high skylight and coffered ceiling. Above the bench is a mural of a scenic California [Eastern Sierra] landscape painted by Marin County artist Willard Dixon." So says the Visitor's Guide, and so it is. We take our seats as though this were an IMAX theater (the proportions are strangely similar), and Clerk of the Court Frederick K. Ohlrich begins a folksy patter about the Court and its history. Explaining how San Francisco beat out Sacramento and Los Angeles as the Court's primary home when, a near-century ago, the legislature deemed the one too crime-ridden and the other too lazy. Explaining how the Justices continue to analyze the cases through the lunch recess, and the delicate, seniority-based protocols of seating and speech they observe. Putting forward the best foot of California's judicial branch, well aware of the $246,000,000 in tax dollars it took to put us all in our seats in this place, on this morning. [Now, I realize you probably thought I'd get around to talking about the argument today, but work is work, and very much here, on my desk, in living color and loud, impatient piles. Part III will wrap this up tomorrow. Who'd you think I was writing this for, anyway? ;-) ]

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