Rains Gets the Defense Job 

Locally, more details emerge about BART incident, downtown condo projects in default, and the FBI investigates OPD.

You know the main event of last week already. Honestly, we never thought we'd see the day when a lowly Hawaiian would become the leader of the Free World. And it's surely a measure of our tragic mental decline that we thought Bill Kristol had something interesting to say about it, in his thankfully final column for The New York Times. Obama, Kristol noted, quoted from a Thomas Paine tract during his inaugural speech, but didn't mention either the author or the most famous line: "These are the times that try men's souls." Here in the East Bay, we know just how that wily old pamphleteer feels. Let's go to the tape!


Almost every day unearths another glum detail in the BART cop shooting scandal. Over the weekend, KTVU got ahold of a new cell phone video of the night former BART officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shot Hayward resident Oscar Grant. In this latest clip, another officer, allegedly one Tony Pirone, walked up to an unresisting Grant, grabbed him by the collar, and leveled him with a punch to the head just moments before the shooting. Even if Grant was struggling — and the tapes appear to show him face down, exhibiting minimal movement — you would too if a cop just walked up and decked you. The new film creates a composite picture of a platoon of cops wired for violence, acting out of all proportion to their circumstances.

Is it any wonder, then, that Mehserle has picked the most skilled lawyer in the business to defend him? Word broke last week that attorney Michael Rains has agreed to take Mehserle's case. In case you don't know the East Bay lawyer, he's the guy who successfully defended the Riders, the West Oakland officers accused of systematically planting evidence on young black men and sending them to prison on false charges; the officers were all acquitted, but dozens of men were released from prison, and the Oakland Police Department agreed to a series of court-negotiated reforms to protect the rights of people who fall into their hands. Rains also kept out of jail several state guards accused of staging gladiatorial contests between inmates. Really, that man's that good.

Meanwhile, members of Mehserle's family found another unidentified package outside their Napa home. Since the family has received death threats stemming from the incident, local cops showed up and blew it up. No word yet on what the package contained. Finally, the wacky black separatist cult Uhuru House held a rally in West Oakland, promising to hold a "people's tribunal" to try Ron Dellums for this and other crimes against the "African community."

Downtown in Default

Pity poor downtown Oakland. Shorenstein Properties, the big development company that got the City Center project started, had agreed to build a new, 23-story office tower at 601 City Center, putting a jewel in Oaktown's oxidized crown. But the declining economy has forced the company to indefinitely suspend plans to finish the project, which was just getting started. So have fun slinking past that lot, Oakland! This comes on the heels of a Trib story that tallies the big downtown projects in financial peril. Three middle-class condo projects, comprising 300 units of Jerry Brown's vaunted 10K Plan, have fallen into default: 901 Jefferson, the Thomas Berkley Square project on 20th Street, and Ellington, on Broadway. And you know about the riots, of course. Oakland's greatest asset going into the downturn was that its downtown office rent was cheaper than San Francisco's. Now, thanks to the riots and the threatened foreclosures, the city's image as a ghost town fraught with racial conflict has reemerged.

Movin' On Up

But at least one Oakland resident is feeling pretty good these days. Tony West, an Oakland lawyer with a history of public service, has been tapped by the Obama administration to run the Attorney General's civil division. West has done everything from working under the Clinton Justice Department to busting up child pornography rings as an assistant US Attorney and advising then-state A.G. Bill Lockyer on high-tech crime and the Microsoft anti-trust case. Now, he's going to run some of the federal government's most important legal cases. And he gets to bail from Morrison & Foerster, the law firm where he was partner, which took a big hit when the real estate market collapsed. Timing is everything.

Three-Dot Roundup

The FBI is investigating claims that Oakland Police Captain Edward Poulson, who runs the Internal Affairs division, brutally kicked a helpless man who later died, and instructed other officers to lie to Internal Affairs. ... UC President Mark Yudof has come up with a plan to offer free tuition to some 1,100 students who hail from families too poor to cough up the ever-increasing student fees. The Regents have yet to approve it. ... Matthew McCall, who allegedly murdered his estranged wife as she was walking to services at Acts Full Gospel church in 2007, has agreed to a plea deal. McCall will serve at least 35 years in prison.

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