By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Suddenly, I became a little concerned, felt a little vulnerable. Not because I was worried this guy might be cruising for sex-rather, it was because I was afraid he might be a vice cop. A warning I'd received the day before from a former prosecutor in the Orange County district attorney's office recurred to me. "After the thousands of lewd-conduct undercover stings I've come across over the years, as overzealous as these guys can be," he'd told me, "I wouldn't even think of going into a public restroom in a park by myself. Not under any circumstances."
Then, that admonition seemed a little excessive. Now, I reconsidered it. Instead of inspecting the notorious restroom, I walked across the park to the historic little adobe, where I absently examined a commemorative plaque and the display of rusty farm implements. I was buying time, reminding myself that I had every right to be here. When no one joined me in the park after a few minutes-when I felt safe again-I began walking toward the restroom. But then, down in the parking lot, the Jeep's door slammed. I walked a little faster.
After 20 seconds in the empty restroom, I'm sitting at a nearby picnic table with a pen and a notebook, jotting down what I have seen: toilet, urinal, sink, check, check, check. For being in such a nice neighborhood, Estancia Park's facilities are very poorly appointed, just about as rustic as that adobe. The stall doesn't have a door on it. The urinal is made of metal and is streaked and rusty. There is no mirror above the sink. Not exactly my idea of a love nest. And then, suddenly, there he is-the guy from the Jeep, up from the parking lot, walking nowhere in particular, wandering almost, except that he always remains near me.
Normally, I wouldn't have given this guy a second thought. Either that, or I would have said hello. But now, the possibility that my reaction to him might result in my arrest has me on guard. I'm trying not to look at him while keeping track of exactly where he is.
He also exudes an exaggerated indifference as he parades back and forth in front of me, then down to the adobe, up to the restroom, around the back, in through the door, back out again. But then, abruptly, he seems to be suggesting a larger purpose: his eyes transfixed on me and his eyebrows arching, he grabs and adjusts himself through his pants with a nimble flourish. Taken altogether, it's a rather peculiar manner-a combination of playing hard to get and playing to get hard. I avert my eyes and keep writing, describing the restroom, his appearance, my assignment, whatever. I'm trying to be a good reporter, but I can't stop thinking that these notes may have to be my alibi.
"I'm the best toilet lawyer in the state of California," proclaims Bruce Nickerson in a voice that gushes through the phone with the unapologetic pomp and rattle of bad plumbing. "I have taken juries out to bathrooms to see for themselves if it was possible to see what the police officer insisted he could see. I've taken judges out to sit in stalls and stand next to urinals. I've taken courtrooms to restrooms in parks and shopping centers and schools. When you're a toilet lawyer, those are the scenes of the so-called crime."
The "so-called crime," Nickerson calls it, because he is convinced that most of the arrests made in the name of California penal code section 647a and 647d are illegal themselves. The "so-called crime," Nickerson adds, because he has convinced so many juries, earned acquittal for so many clients, and followed up those victories by filing so many big-money lawsuits, that arrests for violation of California penal code sections 647a and 647d have become almost nonexistent in several northern California counties.
"In my area, they just don't do it anymore," says Nickerson. "I live in San Mateo County, and we haven't had one here in 10 years. It has been quite a while in Marin and Santa Cruz, too. And Santa Clara -I mean, I won a six-figure judgment from the city of Mountain View in a Supreme Court case. And San Jose. San Francisco was cleaned up before my time. But I don't think there will be many more in Modesto after the $1 million class-action suit I filed a couple of months ago, after their sting operation was ruled illegal. When they have to pay through the nose, they stop doing it."
Nickerson isn't alone in his high opinion of himself. Many Orange County attorneys who still struggle against long odds to defend clients arrested in sting operations that remain in wide practice by Orange County police and sheriff departments consider him something of a guru. He has cases active in the cities of Fullerton and Newport Beach, in addition to Modesto, Alameda, Fresno and Contra Costa counties.
"I'm prepared to go anywhere in the state and assist local attorneys in these cases," says Nickerson. "Most of them don't have the foggiest idea how to go about it. And a lot don't care. But anybody who is dedicated to beating these things can do it."