Playing Hardball

Texas Rangers lawyers are going after Hayward's Craig Bueno, who heckled their pitcher, who threw a chair, which broke the nose of Bueno's wife, who sued the team.

First one of its players threw a folding chair that hit his wife in the face and broke her nose at an A’s game two years ago. Now the Texas Rangers are throwing mud at Oakland A’s fan and heckler extraordinaire Craig Bueno in court. The team’s attorneys are threatening to ruin the Hayward firefighter’s reputation, and his marriage, by exposing purported past misdeeds, says the couple’s lawyer, Gary Gwilliam. “They’re trying to blackmail our client,” he says.

The Rangers’ attorneys at San Francisco law firm Severson & Werson started playing hardball last month, as Jennifer Bueno‘s personal injury lawsuit neared trial. They sent subpoenas to the city of Hayward, which employs Craig Bueno as a battalion chief. They demanded his entire personnel file, including any disciplinary records or complaints of harassment, physical assault, abuse of authority, or dereliction of duty. They also subpoenaed Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko to give a deposition on a murky 2003 incident at Shasta Lake.

It recently came out in court that a private eye employed by the Rangers — a team President Bush co-owned in the early ’90s — had been asking Hayward firefighters about a naughty picture of a woman that supposedly had made the rounds at Bueno’s firehouse more than three years ago. In a sworn statement made on the Buenos’ behalf, retired firefighter Russ Bernard said it seemed the PI was trying to “dig up dirt” on Bueno. As Bernard told it, the sleuth suggested that the woman in the photo “was in somewhat of a compromising position. It was also intimated that Craig Bueno may have been in the picture.”

Understandably, Bernard wondered what the photo had to do with a case in which a chair thrown by relief pitcher Frank Francisco injured Jennifer Bueno. Gwilliam says the photo, which never surfaced, has nothing to do with the case — just like the other dirt the Rangers have dug up.

The Shasta Lake “incident” was nothing, Gwilliam says, just a hoax started by an anonymous e-mail sent to Hayward councilmembers and fire stations, likely by a disgruntled firefighter. The Shasta County sheriff’s office would say only that Bueno was a witness in an alleged sexual assault case in which no one was arrested and no victim ever identified. “They’re simply trying to harass Craig and Jennie,” Gwilliam says. “And I think they’re trying to get them to settle the case.”

Even a mediator assigned to the case pulled Gwilliam aside at a conference last month after the Rangers made a “nominal” settlement offer. According to the lawyer’s written account of the exchange, the mediator described it as a “blackmail offer” and warned that the Rangers’ lawyers were intent on exposing Bueno’s supposed misdeeds and “ruining his marriage.” “It amounts to extortion,” Gwilliam fumes. (A judge has since sealed Gwilliam’s declaration describing what the mediator told him.)

Attorneys for the Rangers deny they are trying to smear Bueno, whom they have countersued. “We didn’t go digging up dirt — these witnesses came to us,” Rangers lawyer Joel Halverson told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch last week.

So Bueno, apparently, has enemies out there willing to dish on him. But how are their allegations relevant to his wife’s lawsuit? In court papers, the Rangers attorneys suggest that they want to depose city officials to contradict Bueno’s self-serving deposition testimony that he’s an unblemished hero. They also want to disprove Jennie Bueno’s claim that the chair-throwing incident caused her lasting emotional distress. The Rangers’ lawyer said he wanted to show that there are other factors in Jennie’s life that are responsible for her emotional distress. (Read: Such as being married to a loudmouth jerk.)

The team also argues that Bueno is at least partially responsible for his wife’s injuries because of his outrageous taunting of relief pitchers in the visiting bullpen, which ultimately led Francisco to toss the chair.

Exactly what Bueno said is a point of contention. Gwilliam insists it was good-natured teasing that any big-leaguer should expect. Others say Bueno was saying over-the-line stuff like “I was with your mother last night,” and that he told Carlos Almanzar he couldn’t make a living as a pitcher and should send his family to Home Depot to find jobs as day laborers. In any event, the Rangers contend in court papers that their investigation shows Bueno to be a shit-starter, “a man who intends to cause trouble and start fights.”

Judge Roesch found none of those arguments persuasive, however. He approved Gwilliam’s motion to prevent the Rangers lawyers from deposing witnesses to produce what the judge charitably described as “improper character evidence.”

Such heavy-handed tactics suggest a lot of money on the line, right? Indeed, Gwilliam says that if Bueno is awarded punitive damages, she could easily win a payout in the “high seven figures.”

Hardly Working

Feeder readers know that Richmond City Councilman and People’s Lawyer Jim Rogers surrendered his law license two months ago with charges pending against him from the state bar. But attendees of a recent candidate forum — Rogers is running for reelection — couldn’t help but notice that the ex-lawyer appeared to be engaged in an old habit: reading and marking legal papers behind the dais. Also curious: He faxed fund-raising letters for his council campaign last month from the “Law Offices of James M. Rogers.”

So what gives? Rogers says he wasn’t marking legal papers at the forum, but some other paperwork he brought. He does acknowledge that he has a few loose ends to tie up with his old practice, which he sold to partner Judith Marsh, such as settling fee-liens with other lawyers who shared past cases. The upshot: He’s just dealing with administrative issues, not practicing law.

The transition shouldn’t be too hard, quips Rogers critic Sherman Rothman, who used to work for him as a paralegal: “He never practiced law anyway.”

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