Good help is hard to find these days, something Oakland City Councilgal Desley Brooks knows all too well. During her one term on the council, she has had more staff turnover than the New York Yankees. Like George Steinbrenner, the combative Brooks is reputedly a hard person to work for, but, also like Steinbrenner, she pays well. At least it seems that way, judging by the generous salary she is paying one of her newest hires: The twenty-year-old daughter of her boyfriend, Oakland businessman Frank Tucker.
Earlier this year, Brooks hired Christen Tucker as a council aide at a rate that would earn the college undergrad an $60,000 annual salary, sources say. While $60K is not the highest salary among all the council aides, it’s relatively inflated considering that, for instance, Councilman Larry Reid says he pays his chief of staff, who has worked for him for seven years, about the same amount. Tucker doesn’t even have a college degree yet. A Google search shows that she attends Syracuse University, where she competes with the track and field team and majors in speech communication (although Brooks told Feeder that Tucker was a physical-therapy major).
Brooks insists there’s nothing hinky about hiring her beau’s girl. She says council members are prohibited only from hiring their own family members, and since she’s not related to Tucker, this isn’t a case of nepotism. Council members have lots of discretion as to who they hire and what they pay because legislative aides aren’t subject to civil service hiring rules.
Reached by cell phone, Brooks said she hired Tucker to work in her office for the summer, presumably while she’s on break from school. Asked why she hired someone without municipal-government expertise, Brooks explained, “In a political office, you hire people you know and trust.”
Could the upcoming murder trial of Orinda housewife Susan Polk turn into a media circus? As reported in this space last week, Polk is acting as her own attorney, defending herself against charges that she stabbed her husband (and former psychologist) to death three years ago at their $2 million Orinda estate. Since she’ll be her own attorney, Polk will be personally cross-examining the prosecution’s star witness: her eighteen-year-old son Gabriel, who found his father’s body and called police.
A law enforcement source says a producer from CBS newsmag 48 Hours was calling around about the Polk case after Feeder’s item ran last week. Meanwhile, a producer for Rita Cosby‘s new show on MSNBC contacted Feeder seeking more info. And Oakland criminal defense attorney Dan Horowitz, a cable-TV legal pundit, says the folks over at CNN’s Nancy Grace show also were intrigued by the Polk story, which he told them about after talking to Feeder.
Horowitz says the case obviously had big-time dramatic appeal. Aside from the prospect of mother cross-examining her son, there’s the fact that Susan Polk first met her much older husband, Felix, as his fifteen-year-old patient. “This is potentially one of the great legal stories,” Horowitz says. “It’s like a Greek drama.”
Last week, a pretrial hearing in front of Contra Costa Superior Court Judge David Flinn perhaps gave a glimpse into the kind of courtroom histrionics to come during the jury trial. Things started calmly as Polk, who says she killed her husband in self-defense, shuffled through a sheaf of handwritten motions she had prepared. Polk revealed that she plans to accuse the district attorney and local law enforcement of suppressing and tampering with evidence to incriminate her. And that’s where tempers started to flare. When Deputy District Attorney Tom O’Connor rebutted her accusations, Polk shot back, “That’s deceitful and dishonest, as are most of the words that come out of the district attorney’s mouth.” That was too much for O’Connor, now in his third year on the case: “I’m tired of her. It’s been three years.” After Polk asked for sanctions against the DA, O’Connor stood up and said, “I’m done, judge,” and then walked out of the courtroom. Flinn then abruptly ended the hearing, forcing Polk to plead her case to a disinterested bailiff.
Everyone will return to the courtroom on August 22, when the murder trial is scheduled to begin.
Really Small Claims
There’s a bill in the state Legislature right now that would raise the maximum amount someone can sue for in small-claims court from $5,000 to $7,500. There is, however, no minimal amount someone can sue for, although maybe there should be.
A couple of weeks ago, Cal State East Bay student Kimberly Alexander sued Bangkok Palace, a Thai restaurant in Oakland not too far from Lake Merritt. The amount she sued for: $7.55.
The dispute started two months back, when Alexander says she found a hair in her soup. She complained, but says the restaurant refused to replace her food or refund her money. So she sued. Superior court officials kindly waived the $22 filing fee, and the sheriff waived his $30 fee for serving notice of the lawsuit on the restaurant. Alexander and the Bangkok Palace’s manager then spent a morning of their lives in court arguing over the paltry sum before attorney Patrick Campbell, who sat in as the judge pro tem.
Alexander, an Oakland resident, realizes that it seems like a whole lot of energy to expend over such a small expenditure. But she says that it was the principle of the thing that motivated her to take her case to court. “I’m a grad student and don’t have money to give away,” she explains.
In court, the restaurant’s rep reportedly said that Alexander didn’t complain about the hair when she was eating, but only when she returned hours later demanding a refund. By then, of course, there was no way to verify her gripe. Nonetheless, Judge Campbell ruled in Alexander’s favor, though he declined to explain his thinking to Feeder. He did say that he didn’t think it a waste of his time to preside over a $7.55 dispute. “Just because someone has a claim for just $7.55 doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a forum to have their claim presented,” he reasons.