In this March 31, 2010 photo, Mike Schmier speaks in Oakland, Calif. In a profession that attracts no shortage of legal gadflies, perennial California Attorney General candidate Schmier stands out. The outspoken Emeryville, Calif. lawyer has spent countess hours and dollars running for high public office and filed numerous lawsuits trying to change a California court rule prohibiting citing "unpublished" decisions in legal arguments. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Mike Schmier spent Wednesday afternoon tirelessly traipsing through a downtown Oakland office building full of law firms and attorneys.

He buttonholed anyone who showed the slightest interest in his cause. Or made eye contact.

"Hi, my name is a Mike Schmier and I'm running for attorney general," he said.

In a profession not lacking for gadflies, perennial California attorney general candidate Schmier stands out.

This is his third try to secure the Democratic nomination for attorney general. The Emeryville lawyer is simultaneously running for a seat on the State Bar Board of Regents, which oversees the California agency that licenses and regulates lawyers. Schmier also ran for governor during the 2003 recall. He once ran for the U.S. Senate.

Besides spending countless hours and dollars seeking elective office, the dapper, trim and divorced Schmier, 65, also files lawsuits, lobbies legislators and spends many of his waking hours on an obsessive quest that riles judges, garners support from lawyers and is best appreciated by legal scholars and appellate law junkies.

Schmier's eyes sparkle under bushy eyebrows when he discusses his obsession with abolishing an arcane court rule that devalues the legal value of the vast majority of decisions issued by the California Court of Appeal, the state's second highest court.

For decades, lawyers have been prohibited from citing appellate decisions classified as "unpublished," meaning they aren't deemed important enough to be included in the state court's official law books of appellate decisions.

Such precious space is reserved in court libraries for "published" opinions, which are supposed to settle substantive disputes over legal interpretations.

The appeals court rendered more than 11,000 opinions in 2008 and about 90 percent of them were tagged with the second-class label because they dealt with frivolous appeals or were easy decisions based on well-established law. The legal conclusions of unpublished opinions apply only to the one particular case at issue. Lawyers may not cite them as precedent to bolster arguments in other cases.

The expectation is that appellate judges and their staffs spend considerably less time and effort on unpublished matters as they do on published opinions. Court leaders argue that lifting the citation prohibition would overburden and already stressed court system.

"We would have to sift through every affirmance, every joy-riding conviction, every fender bender civil case in an attempt to find a needle in a haystack," said the California Chief Justice Ron George. "It's just not an intelligent use of resources."

George has at least twice before changed the minds of Sacramento lawmakers Schmier had convinced to introduce and back legislation to change the rule.

"He's seems very much fixated on the issue," George said.

Still, Schmier and his ilk have had their successes outside California. Most notably, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 changed its rule in their favor for federal courts.

Several other states now allow unpublished opinions to be cited, including New York, Michigan and Connecticut. Nonetheless, Schmier remains undeterred that California will change its rule, even though he's lost every legal challenge. He's also garnered only token support in every statewide election in which he's competed.