The first case Bruce Nickerson took on as a young trial attorney seemed straightforward.
His client had been arrested when a San Jose police officer saw him engage in lewd conduct inside a booth at an adult bookstore. Prosecutors offered the man a plea deal that would have spared him from jail time and registering as a sex offender.
For most attorneys, the deal would have seemed like a gift. But Nickerson had a plan, and urged his client to take the case to trial.
The officer had leaned into the booth to observe the man touching himself. To be convicted of lewd conduct in California, Nickerson argued in court, a defendant would need to believe someone would not just...