Petrelis: Impressions From the Hearing

[This is a guest post from longtime activist Michael Petrelis, whose blog -- The Petrelis Files -- often details topics of interest to LGBT people that don't receive significant coverage from mainstream or even other LGBT media sources. -Ed.]

Extreme Silence at Prop 8 Hearing; Boies Wears Hush Puppies?

By Michael Petrelis

AFER board president Chad Griffin (left) and lawyers Ted Olson (center) and David Boies.

AFER board president Chad Griffin (left) and lawyers Ted Olson (center) and David Boies.

Here are some of my impressions from the hearing today before Judge Vaughn Walker in the matter of the lawsuit challenging Prop 8 being brought by Ted Olson and David Boies, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, and the news conferences afterward.

* * * * *

As I tried to get through the security checkpoint at the Golden Gate Avenue entrance to the federal building, my camera was confiscated by the guards for security reasons.  I protested this, arguing that TV cameras were allowed in for the press conference following the hearing, and I should be granted the same privilege.

The woman behind me interrupted my spat with security, while grabbing her bag from the conveyor belt.  She said: “I read your blog everyday.  You’re a unique thinker with strong views, not that I always agree with them.  I’m Calla Devlin from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.  I’ll see you upstairs in court.”

What an introduction.  She gave me her card, then the guard gave me a ticket to reclaim my camera later on.

* * * * *

Fifteen minutes before the hearing is set to start at 10 a.m., and there are seats aplenty in the courtroom — unlike the hearing on July 2.  I see the friendly faces of John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, a gay couple long involved in this battle, often in the media eye, and grab a seat in the row ahead of them.

In the front right row are the two gay and lesbian couples who are the plaintiffs: Kristin Perry, Sandra Stier, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo.  Seated to their right is Chad Griffin, head of the American Foundation for Equal Rights board, and he’s being cordial with Jenny Pizer of Lambda Legal, who is shaking hands and greeting the plaintiffs.

* * * * *

Randy Thomasson, head of the anti-gay Campaign for California Families, is in the next to last row, with a lost look on his face.  In the row behind me, to my left, is Frank Schubert, campaign manager for ProtectMarriage.org and the Yes on 8 forces last year.  He exhibits the intensity of a coach waiting for his team to win the game.

* * * * *

Five minutes before Judge Walker enters, the day’s court reporter instructs all attorneys to speak directly into the mic at the lectern, then goes around both sides’ tables, writing down everyone’s name.  This small bit of court action brings a hush to the spectators in the courtroom.

The proceeding soon starts, and like the last hearing, Judge Walker is cheerful, but serious about the business at hand, and wonderfully direct.

As the hearing goes on, I feel and hear an extreme silence everywhere, except at the bench or the lawyers’ mic. No one in the audience is whispering or making any discernible noises, as we all hang on to every word from the lawyers and judge.

* * * * *

We’ve stepped back into the stone age of communication.  Anyone who is taking notes, maybe half of all in attendance, is doing so on dead tree and using pens.  No clicking of keyboards or whirring of tape recorders.  All electronic devices are turned off.

Media trivia: Lisa Leff of the Associated Press is left-handed, and she used a legal note pad for her reporter’s notes today.

* * * * *

Olson and Boies speaking at the news conference after the hearing.

Olson and Boies speaking at the news conference after the hearing.

Judge Walker asks the ACLU attorney, James Esseks, who is arguing for the gay groups that want to be parties to the lawsuit, if part of what they’re after is to make sure “the factual record would be richer.”  The lawyer says yes, and a murmur from the left side of the audience is heard.

Disapproving looks are shot at the people murmuring — and they immediately go quiet.

The lawyer for the Campaign for California Families talks so fast the court reporter twice asks her to slow down.  It was hard for me to hear all of her words.

When Ted Olson rebuts arguments made by the gay groups trying to join the case, his delivery was even, his voice easily picked up by my ears.

* * * * *

The reporter next to me is hiding his iPhone in his left hand, under his paper pad.  He frequently takes it out, texts only with his left hand, then hides the device.

Right after Judge Walker rules against the pro-gay and anti-gay groups looking to intervene, the reporter rapidly fires off a text message.  So does Schubert, who makes no effort whatsoever to conceal his action.  The guard doesn’t notice.

Across the aisle, Thomasson is upset with the rulings and leaves as soon as the court addresses the case management issues.

* * * * *

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and one of his top lawyers, Therese Stweart.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and one of his top lawyers, Therese Stweart.

Every time I glance at the male plaintiff couple, seated on the aisle, one partner has his arm resting on the back of the wooden pew.  At times, his left hand embraces his partner’s upper arm.  The body language of both says, “We’re not afraid to show affection.  We are partners.”

* * * * *

There are three press conferences after the hearing in the media center of the federal building.  First up are Dennis Herrera, San Francisco City Attorney, and his top lawyer Terry Stewart.

Olson, right, and Boies.  And their shoes.

Olson, left, and Boies. And their shoes.

Only Herrera speaks to the press, and is pleased the city will be allowed to join the suit and show the city’s unique “governmental interest” to the court regarding the outcome’s impact on local agencies.

Next come Griffin, Olson and Boies, and the lawyers answer a few questions.  I notice that Boies is not wearing proper business attire.

He’s wearing what appear to be velvet slip-on walking shoes from Hush Puppies, not the standard issue black leather lawyer shoes Olson has on.  I don’t know why I found this sartorial observation of interest, but upon reflection, I think it was because this small detail humanized this superlawyer to me.

* * * * *

Cooper

Cooper

Finally, Charles Cooper, the lawyer for the Yes on Prop 8 team, along with two associates whose names I didn’t catch, took questions.  As Cooper explained the rationale for what he thinks is a winning legal strategy, the lightweight Yes on 8 sign, which hadn’t been securely taped to the lectern, came loose and fell to the floor.  Some laughs broke out, and I cracked wise, from the front row.

Cooper, without his sign.

Cooper, without his sign.

“It doesn’t seem like you’ve got a solid foundation there,” I said to Cooper, who chuckled at his bare lectern and got back to serious business.

Throughout the three pressers, a Daniel Sullivan, a retired attorney and consultant to several local media outlets, badgered the lawyers.  He impressed me with his forceful questioning and deep knowledge of U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

I asked him afterward why he was so aggressive.  He replied: “To make them better lawyers prepared to appear before judges other than Walker.”

May the legal barriers that stop gay people from marrying, fall as easily and unequivocally as Cooper’s flimsy sign.

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