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LAW–Local Attorney’s Pro Bono Work Frees Woman



Gray Cary Attorneys Win Burton Award for Toxic Tort Litigation Piece

“If a San Diego lawyer hadn’t read a newspaper to pass the time on a flight from Minneapolis to California odds are that Serena Nunn still would be sitting in an Arizona prison today.”

That is how a Twin Cities reporter summed up the role San Diego attorney Sam Sheldon played in a chain of events that eventually led to the White House. Those events culminated with President Bill Clinton ordering Nunn released with three years still left on her sentence.

Sheldon, an associate practicing civil litigation at the Downtown office of Cozen and O’Connor, took on Nunn’s case as a pro bono project.

During his 1997 flight, he stumbled across a story in a Minnesota newspaper on inequities in criminal sentencing , specifically in the sentencing of women convicted of illegal drug trafficking vs. that of men accused of the same crime. The story said women, Nunn included, receive harsher federal sentences than their husbands or boyfriends.

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Nunn had been sentenced for conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.

Sheldon contacted Nunn to arrange a meeting, then dug into her case. He found a legal error in her prison sentence that added three years, and also argued the federal minimum sentence she received was unfair, according to an account written by Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Chris Graves.

Eventually Sheldon convinced U.S. District Judge David Doty, who had sentenced Nunn, and Jon Hopeman, who had prosecuted her, to write the president supporting his petition for clemency. In addition, Sheldon recruited high-profile politicians from Minneapolis, including Gov. Jesse Ventura, to express their support for Nunn’s case.

Finally, on July 7, after serving 11 years of her 14-year sentence, Nunn was told that she had received clemency from the president and would be released.

Nunn was released July 10. Sheldon met her with a rented limousine and Nunn’s family members, who had flown to Arizona from Minneapolis. Sheldon then helped Nunn start a new life in Phoenix.

Sheldon’s work has not gone unnoticed in his own office.

“We are very proud of Sam’s dedication and tenacity,” said Stephen A. Cozen, founder and chairman of Cozen and O’Connor. The Philadelphia-based firm has a dozen other U.S. offices, and one in London.

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Letterhead Changes: Peter W. Ito has been named a partner with Baker & McKenzie. A member of the creditor’s rights, bankruptcy and insolvency practice group, Ito joined Baker’s Downtown office as an associate in February 1998. The international firm is based in Chicago. Best Best & Krieger LLP has announced Dina Harris, of counsel, is now working from the firm’s Downtown office. Harris moved from BB & K;’s Riverside main office to head the firm’s education law practice in San Diego. San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP has added four new attorneys to its Carmel Valley office. Jeffery J. Carrol, David M. Clark and Daniel C. Flynn are its new business and technology associates. Joining the real estate group is another associate, Grant Puleo. The firm now has 90 attorneys in the San Diego area.

Winning Writing: Attorneys Don Rushing and Mary Lehman of Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich LLP have won a Burton Award for Legal Achievement for an article they co-wrote. “Toxic Tort Litigation: Using Case Management Orders” appeared in the June 1999 edition of For The Defense magazine, a publication of the Defense Research Institute. The Burton Foundation for Legal Achievement is a New York-based nonprofit organization that, according to a news release from Gray Cary, annually recognizes legal articles “that exemplify style of expression and plain, clear, persuasive and effective writing.” Only 12 articles were selected nationally for the award.

Rushing is chair of Gray Cary’s litigation group and is a certified civil trial advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Lehman is a certified appellate specialist in the litigation group. Both work in Gray Cary’s University Towne Centre office.

Gray Cary, an old name in San Diego law, merged with Ware & Freidenrich in 1994; it now markets itself as a Silicon Valley-based firm.

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Widening Its Network: Boston-based Fish & Richardson, P.C., which emphasizes high-tech work and has a local office near UCSD, has opened an office in its eighth city, Dallas.

From Valises To Grease Paint: Attorney Jason Schauer, a member of the commerce and finance group at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison in Carmel Valley, stars in the Christian Community Theatre presentation of “Me and My Girl,” running through Aug. 5 at the Mt. Helix amphitheater in La Mesa. Schauer takes the lead role as Billy Snibson, a lower-class Englishman found to be the rightful heir to fortune and title. His dilemma: Should he renounce his Cockney girlfriend in order to inherit his newfound millions? Schauer has acted in, directed and choreographed many local performances over the past several years. Most recently, he appeared in the Starlight Bowl’s 1999 production of “Crazy For You.”

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Burning Up The Keys: Some 30 court reporters participated in a speed typing contest when the National Court Reporters Association held its five-day convention at the San Diego Marriott and Marina. Rita J. Bowen of El Cajon placed second. The only person who could rip along faster was Karla Wollin Boyer of Sterling Heights, Mich.

Column items may be sent via E-mail to bgraves@sdbj.com.

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