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Pass It On: City Attorney Joan Gallo (left) only has good things to say about her scofflaw chief trial lawyer.

Let Go, Let Gallo

City Attorney Joan Gallo won't write letters of recommendation for lawyers in her office who go looking for work elsewhere. She'll give prospective employers only basic, objective information about her underlings, such as the length of their employment. There's a legalistic reason for doing so: Gallo doesn't want to expose the city to a lawsuit from another employer. But Gallo seems to be willing to put her reputation on the line for her troubled chief trial attorney Ralph Greene. After a jury convicted Greene earlier this month of a misdemeanor hit-and-run in front of a liquor store, Gallo reassured her top trial lawyer that his job was safe. "Ralph is an outstanding lawyer, and the incident was not job-connected," she told reporters. ... It's not the first time Greene has been in trouble. He's been convicted twice for driving while under the influence of alcohol. And a lawsuit filed last year by former deputy city attorney David Huskey alleges that Gallo forced him out after he told her that Greene showed up drunk at an important meeting before a trial. (City officials deny Huskey's allegation.) The suit quotes Gallo as once saying that Greene "is a better attorney drunk than most attorneys are sober." A City Hall regular reveals that some councilmembers are privately unhappy with the way Gallo has handled--or not handled--Greene's latest public relations disaster. The City Council, however, doesn't have any direct say in the matter. As Greene's boss, Gallo makes the call. It's quite possible that her defense of Greene is a legal tactic. If so, it's not a good one. Huskey's lawyers can easily argue that Gallo's most recent actions reflect a pattern of making excuses for Greene. Gee, is this starting to sound like an Alanon meeting or what?

Legal Harassment

After county jail guards' union president Richard Abbate got a 10-day suspension a few years ago for sexually harassing three female guards, he filed a slander lawsuit against his accusers and used union money to pay for his legal fees. Three years later, Superior Court Judge John Flaherty finally dismissed the lawsuit, and Abbate--or the union--will have to pay at least $30,400 in legal fees to his opponents' lawyers. In his order, Judge Flaherty scolds Abbate for keeping the lawsuit alive long after "it became clear that the case could not proceed on its merits." Abbate claims that his accusers fabricated the harassment charges in order to spoil his reputation and oust him as union president. The women's lawyers see it differently. "[T]his lawsuit has been the forum for Abbate's personal vendetta against the individual defendants because they had the temerity to petition their employer to stop Abbate from sexually harassing them," county-hired attorney Sharon Kirsch says in a trial brief. ... With union funds paying his legal bill, Abbate hasn't had to worry about the financial implications of filing frivolous motions in court. (Though it's unknown how much the union has doled out to litigate the case, readers should take note that defense lawyers have billed the county for about $120,000 to represent the three female guards over the past three years.) Apparently, Abbate isn't done yet. His lawyers have notified the court that they plan to appeal the judge's ruling.

Labor vs. Chamber

While Eye first postulated that the District 3 City Council race would be a battle between the Hammer and McEnery machines, the contest is also shaping up to be a fight between labor and business interests. Last week the Chamber of Commerce's political action committee threw its support behind federal prosecutor and Planning Commissioner Tony West. West's opponent, Cindy Chavez, is a political operative for the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council. She champions a living-wage ordinance--what the Chamber derisively describes as a municipal minimum wage--and endorses the City Council's boycott of Kmart. That's about all the Chamber brain trust needed to hear to side with West at last week's debate between the two downtown candidates. (The two, however, favor the airport expansion.) ... West, meanwhile, is conspicuously avoiding being labeled as a McEnery candidate, despite being backed by both the Macster and incumbent downtown councilguy David Pandori. Though West acknowledges having sought advice from Pandori's office, he quickly adds that he has also solicited input from Bob Brownstein, Mayor Susan Hammer's budget chieftain.

Prepare for Battle

For a while, it looked like local incumbents were going to get a complimentary return ticket to public office this election year. But with the filing deadline approaching, opponents are finally emerging. The most serious challenge comes in east San Jose, where Alum Rock school trustee Felix Alvarez is putting together a campaign to take on Councilman Manny Diaz. Like plenty of other Alum Rock board members, Alvarez can boast having survived a threatened recall attempt, meaning he knows how to put up a good fight and has lots of enemies. He'll have some catching up to do. Diaz raised $17,605 before Alvarez even pulled papers. Look for Alvarez to make a big stink about Diaz's support of serving booze at the Mexican Heritage Gardens. ... And it looks like Supervisor Don Gage is going to have to start pressing the flesh again, despite his deft maneuvering to appease organized labor, who opposed him when he beat Democrat Rosemary Kamei in the March '97 special election. Gage won't be facing a machine candidate this time. County gadfly Ted Scarlett, the guy who regularly complains at board meetings about Reid-Hillview Airport, is hoping to topple the Don. ... With the exceptions of Diaz and Gage, local incumbents' chances of re-election look golden. Supe Jim Beall should be able to sit back and strech his legs across the desk. Diquisto and Assessor Larry Stone look as if they will go unchallenged. Councilman George Shirakawa Jr. is so confident that he has only raised a scant $1,400 toward his re-election so far. Eye suspects that his critics fear that the heavily favored councilor--a.k.a. Shirakawa the Hut--could really throw his weight around the district if they dare to take him on.

Auto Pilots

While supervisors expressed skepticism about the sheriff's desire for a $100,000 armored utility vehicle, some of them were driving around in brand-new cars paid for by the county. The supes quietly changed county policy in December so they could either receive a $350 monthly car allowance or pick out a sedan from the county fleet. Supes Pete McHugh and Don Gage, who represents the huge south county district, now can be spotted driving to work in full-size '98 Ford Crown Victorias. And chairwoman Blanca Alvarado is looking sporty these days in a mid-size '97 Ford Taurus. A county official returning from the parking lot behind 70 W. Hedding one day quipped, "It looks like a damn Ford dealership out there."

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From the February 19-25, 1998 issue of Metro.

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