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Closures, cuts, big cases highlight first half of 2012

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The first half of 2012 was a tumultuous one in the San Diego legal community.

The region's oldest law firm — and one of the city's oldest businesses — relinquished its name in a merger; the state courts announced the effect of staggering budget cuts; and a local judicial race grabbed national headlines.

Here, we recap some of the biggest stories of the year so far.

Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps era comes to a close

After 139 years of providing legal services in San Diego, Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps agreed in March to combine operations with McKenna, Long & Aldridge, ceding its name to the Washington, D.C.-based firm.

Founded by Moses Luce in 1873, Luce Forward was known for the integrity of its attorneys and its close-knit client relationships. The firm built its reputation in recent years around its real estate practice and expanded to markets in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange counties.

The combined firm boasts more than 575 attorneys and public policy advisers in 13 offices. It is now one of the 70 largest firms in the country, and the firm’s real estate practice ranks among the top three largest practices on the West Coast.

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Superior Court announces massive layoffs looming

San Diego Superior Court officials announced in June that it will have to shave more than $50 million from its budget during the next two fiscal years. The cutbacks, brought on by reduced funding from the state, will result in the loss of approximately 250 jobs and the closure of 40 courtrooms.

The plan calls for at least $14 million in cuts for fiscal year 2012-13, forcing the elimination of 18 court positions and 75 non-courtroom staff; the closures of six downtown criminal courtrooms, one juvenile dependency courtroom in North County and North County probate court operations; and the curtailing of Friday business hours to the public.

The budget cuts could delay civil trials for up to five years. San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Trentacosta said the cuts will "fundamentally alter the way in which the court does business."

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Kreep wins judicial race that goes to the wire

In perhaps the closest election in San Diego Superior Court history, Ramona attorney Gary Kreep edged deputy district attorney Garland Peed by just 1,727 votes. The race was still in doubt for two weeks following the June 5 primary as the remaining absentee ballots were counted.

The race attained national attention, at first for the candidates' surnames, but later for Kreep's political views. The constitutional law attorney doesn't believe President Barack Obama was born in the United States, and he would like the California Secretary of State to verify the citizenship of all candidates before they appear on the November ballot.

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9th Circuit upholds overturning Prop. 8

In a year of noteworthy judicial rulings, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to reaffirm the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8 was among the biggest.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit in February upheld U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker's decision overturning the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages in California. Walker said the measure violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The appellate court later refused to hear the case en banc (before a full panel), leaving the U.S. Supreme Court as the last option for Prop. 8 proponents.

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Law Library completes year-long renovation

In January, the San Diego Law Library unveiled the results of its $5 million, year-long renovation project.

The improvements to the five-story building included wireless Internet access, a computer center, furniture with built-in electrical plugs for laptop use, a glass-encased boardroom and three conference rooms supplied with electronic displays, DVD players, polycom phones and easy to use panel controls.

The entrance is now ADA compliant, the entire fifth floor has been cleared out into an event space and the inside is decorated with artwork and sculptures. More than half the renovation costs were covered by the Hervey Family through the San Diego Foundation.

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Groundbreaking women's group celebrates 40th anniversary

Lawyers Club of San Diego celebrated its 40th anniversary in May by honoring Judges Lynn Schenk and Judith McConnell with the ICON award and law professor Hugh Friedman with the Belva Lockwood Award for his outstanding contribution.

In 1971, Schenk and McConnell were among those who stood up to the US Grant Grill's "men's only" policy for lunch, getting the restaurant to finally admit women. They then turned their attention to addressing gender discrimination in the legal world and the community by forming their own bar association.

They adopted the gender-neutral name Lawyers Club and made sure to include men.

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Baker & McKenzie closes San Diego office

One of the largest law firms in world, Baker & McKenzie shuttered its San Diego office at the end of March. The firm had dwindled to less than 10 attorneys and a dozen staff members when it decided to close.

Two of the office's remaining partners relocated to San Francisco. The San Diego office had been open for more than two decades.

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