Letter: California Lawyer magazine baffled by Beachwood decision

Letter

Posted by
Fri, December 19, 2008


Much has been written in various bay area press outlets that has oversimplified and obscured the circumstances of the Beachwood case.

Below is the largely overlooked editor’s intro in the May issue of the California Lawyer magazine regarding that magazine’s article on the Beachwood judgment. It was overlooked because the Beachwood April 1 Settlement (rather than an appeal to the 9th Circuit—arguably the biggest mistake in the City’s history) - had already occurred at the time of publication. Here is the editor’s interesting statement about the case, which includes a fairly bold conclusion to have been made by a legal magazine’s reporter about a federal judicial decision.

However, the longer David P. Hamilton, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, worked on this story for us, the more troubled he became with Judge Walker’s ruling. "My experience is that when you come across a judge’s opinion as strongly worded as Judge Walker’s was, you naturally assume that the offending party was caught dead to rights. But as I dug deeper, I realized there was a fair amount of contradictory evidence that either didn’t make it into his ruling, or was dismissed out of hand."

Just as we were about to go to press with this story, the city announced a settlement offer in the case.

Mike Ferreira

Click below to read the full editorial.

 

From The Editor

By Martin Lasden

Because ours is a monthly magazine with a long production cycle, we are in no position to compete with the dailies when it comes to covering fast-breaking news. However, as a monthly, we can provide more depth and context.

Take this month’s feature about the protracted battle between Half Moon Bay and developer Charles "Chop" Keenan ("Treading Water," page 24) over a subdivision where he intended to build 83 houses-until, that is, the city declared it a wetlands. Like so many coastal communities in California, Half Moon Bay-just south of San Francisco-has seen explosive growth over the past couple of decades, which has heightened tensions between developers and conservationists. Last November, though, the stakes suddenly got a lot higher when a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that Half Moon Bay owed Keenan and his lawyers an astounding $41.6 million-roughly four times the city’s annual budget.

In subsequent press reports, it appeared that the city had messed up badly by "creating" the wetlands it sought to protect when, in the early 1980s, it installed a problematic drainage system that flooded the area. "A physical taking," is how Judge Vaughn Walker characterized it in his 164-page ruling. However, the longer David P. Hamilton, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, worked on this story for us, the more troubled he became with Judge Walker’s ruling. "My experience is that when you come across a judge’s opinion as strongly worded as Judge Walker’s was, you naturally assume that the offending party was caught dead to rights. But as I dug deeper, I realized there was a fair amount of contradictory evidence that either didn’t make it into his ruling, or was dismissed out of hand."

Just as we were about to go to press with this story, the city announced a settlement offer in the case. Had the deal been struck a week later, it would have been too late for us to include. And even though we did catch it, there’s a good chance that by now you’ve already read about it in a daily, or perhaps even a blog.

Which brings me to this month’s cover story ("The Search for Intelligent Life in the Blogosphere," page 18), written by Senior Editor Jeanette Borzo. As Borzo notes, lawyers and law firms are jumping into legal blogging these days with the same zeal that many of them exhibited for newsletters during the desktop-publishing revolution of the 1980s. At its best, says Borzo, reading and writing blogs can help lawyers stay on top of their specialties. A blog can also serve as "a powerful marketing tool to showcase a lawyer’s expertise." However, blogs can be a terrible waste of time as well, filled as they so often are with ill-considered, hastily written blather. In fact, one lawyer told Borzo that only a quarter of the law blogs on the Web are truly worthwhile. As for the rest, perhaps they could benefit from the further reflection afforded by a long production cycle-maybe even one as long as ours.