So why did the People’s Lawyer really give up his once-lucrative TV-fueled law practice earlier this month? That’s what legal and political insiders are wondering, but so far no one has been able to figure out what the bar, the organization that polices attorney behavior, had on Jim Rogers.
Rogers resigned his license to practice law on September 6 with disciplinary charges pending against him. He sold his personal-injury practice to his partner, Judith Marsh. By resigning with charges pending, the details of what the bar dug up on him remain secret.
For his part, Rogers says that for the past year or two he has been looking to get out of law — his career for 26 years now — and into real-estate development anyway. (So you see, dear Feeders, the bar’s plan to file charges against him couldn’t have come at a better time.) He adds that his practice hadn’t been profitable in recent years. “It was the right time to get out,” he says.
Yeah, no doubt. Rogers also is in the midst of a re-election bid for his Richmond City Council seat, so who wants to give his opponents fistfuls of mud to throw?
Those familiar with Rogers’ career beyond his cheesy late-night ads know that he’s been hounded by accusations of professional misbehavior for a decade (“Settling for Less,” feature, 1/8/2003). In 1997, the bar issued Rogers a “private reproval,” the equivalent of a wrist slap for, among other things, overcharging clients. Since then, he has been sued for legal malpractice at least a half-dozen times.
In the most damning case, Todd Wilson, a construction worker, suffered an injury that resulted in amputation of his lower leg. According to court records, Rogers pressured Wilson to accept an $85,000 settlement for what a judge later figured was a million-dollar case — and to lie under oath. Wilson’s malpractice lawyer, Ross Meltzer, exposed Rogers’ practice of settling cases at lowball prices in order to avoid going to trial. Rogers conceded then that he hadn’t actually tried a case in court in more than twenty years, even though his practice handled hundreds of cases annually. In July 2002, Judge Ken Kawaichi ordered Rogers to pay Wilson $300,200 for screwing up his case, although the People’s Lawyer settled out of court before the final judgment came down.
Rogers has since settled a couple other malpractice lawsuits. One involved Anita Ashford, who blamed him for pressuring her to accept a $6,700 insurance settlement in July 2003 to compensate her for injuries she suffered after falling through a wooden deck. When she initially resisted, Rogers “became abusive toward her and told her to lose weight if she wanted to feel better,” her malpractice complaint alleged. Afterward, Ashford’s back pain persisted and she had to have two surgeries to correct a herniated disc.
Rogers left a message for Feeder saying that the recent bar case didn’t involve any of the malpractice suits filed against him, but he declined to clarify the accusations. He explained that didn’t want to violate People’s Lawyer-client privilege and get into a “blow-by-blow thing discussing a lot of details.”
At a fund-raiser last week launching the chamber of commerce’s Better Berkeley political action committee, Mayor Tom Bates made some unusually candid comments regarding his feelings toward council members Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring. Asked by a partisan in the audience what it would take for him to back George Beier or Raudel Wilson, who are challenging Worthington and Spring respectively, Bates said he would stay neutral in those races. What was interesting was his explanation.
The mayor told the forty-person crowd that it was so unpleasant to work with Worthington and Spring now, he feared it would be even worse if he opposed their re-elections and they won anyway. He suggested he would lend a hand only if they endorsed one of his token opponents in the November election. Bates called this strategy a sort of political “nonproliferation treaty.”
The politics of neutrality are simple: Don’t piss off someone unnecessarily and ignite a feud. Which is why it’s odd that Bates would use such incendiary words to justify his neutrality, even if he was talking to a crowd that also loathes Worthington and Spring. What, for instance, if his unkind words should get back to his colleagues, say, via a bottom-feeding columnist who attended the event?
Hard to tell. Before tensions could reach DEFCON 1, Bates called Feeder to clarify his statement. He said he didn’t mean to imply he disliked working with either incumbent, and pointed out there are always disagreements among colleagues. “I work well with Kriss and Dona on a variety of issues,” said Bates, who hadn’t known Feeder was in the room that night.
Sewing Up City Hall
This week, prosecutors expect a federal grand jury to indict Maurice Himy, the clothier accused of shaking down an Oakland businessman who wanted, and later received, a city auctioneering contract (“Corruption Bust Rocks Oakland,” Cityside, 9/13). Will other potentially corrupt interactions between Himy and city officials come to light?
The FBI continues to investigate dealings at Oakland City Hall tied to Himy. Sources say that after his arrest, FBI investigators spoke to top officials. City Administrator Deborah Edgerly says agents interviewed her for two hours about Himy, ten city and port contracts, and the rezoning of the Tidewater area near the estuary. She says the FBI never mentioned any council members’ names. But judging from the feds’ questions, Feeder thinks they are particularly interested in City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente.
In court papers, the FBI says Himy bragged about being pals with “City Official A,” believed to be De La Fuente, in order to prove he could deliver the auctioneering contract. De La Fuente denies any wrongdoing. He does acknowledge that Himy contacted him about that contract and others, including a limousine program at the airport and the rezoning of the Tidewater area — two things Edgerly says the G-men asked her about.
In August 2004, the Port Commission, which oversees airport operations, approved the eighteen-month limousine pilot program, granting it without competitive bidding to a partnership of Zinia Limousine and Sedan Company and Associated Limousines. Six months later, however, the commission delayed the program after complaints from taxi drivers and another limo company owned by Mark McClure, a city planning commissioner.
De La Fuente said he couldn’t recall which company Himy represented, only that the clothier was advocating for a trial limo-program in general. Boris Spektor, a part-owner of Zinia, told Feeder that Himy didn’t act on behalf of his company.
De La Fuente, meanwhile, noted that Himy also was working with real-estate investors from Los Angeles who want to rezone industrial waterfront land on Tidewater Avenue to residential.
As Feeders may recall, De La Fuente’s former top aide, Carlos Plazola, bought a 1.2-acre vacant lot in the Tidewater area in 2004 along with De La Fuente allies Ana Chretien, Anthony Batarse, and Lily Hu. Chretien owns ABC Security, which boasts city security contracts at the airport, Oakland army base, and City Hall. Batarse is president of the Port Commission and owner of the Lloyd A. Wise auto dealership. And Hu, a city lobbyist, is central to the FBI’s corruption investigation of state Senator Don Perata. Rezoning the industrial land to allow residential would significantly increase its value.
At a committee meeting two weeks ago, De La Fuente voted with three other council members to rezone the Tidewater area as part of a citywide effort to revise zoning rules. The following week, the rest of the council refused to endorse the change and referred the matter to the planning commission.
Finally, Edgerly says that the feds probed her about sole-source contracts with Endymion Systems, to which the council agreed to pay more than $1.4 million in 2002 to assess Oakland’s ability to handle a major emergency. According to a story in the Oakland Post last week, De La Fuente’s daughter and wife were Endymion employees.
Embrace Thy Enemies
Oakland Mayor-elect Ron Dellums, who campaigned on the importance of transparent government, has been getting bad press for the shroud of secrecy in which his advisory task forces are operating. But it can’t be said that the man didn’t keep his word about welcoming opponents to serve. Among those invited to sit on a Dellums task force is none other than the aforementioned Carlos Plazola.
Plazola, who recently quit his job working for De La Fuente to go into real estate, is serving on — surprise, surprise — the land-use policy task force, sources say. Wonder what he’ll recommend should be done in the Tidewater area.