TS - Humboldt's enviro prosecutor dismissed

Article Launched: 07/12/2006 04:18:31 AM PDT

Humboldt's enviro prosecutor dismissed
John Driscoll The Times-Standard

The prosecutor who handled the bulk of the county's environmental cases for the past seven years was terminated Friday, apparently with the recommendation of District Attorney Paul Gallegos.

Paul Hagen's termination with the California District Attorney's Association came as a surprise for two of the three counties he worked for, part of an arrangement between the state, the association and four Northern California counties. Gallegos expected the termination, said Assistant District Attorney Wes Keat.

Gallegos is on vacation. But district attorneys for both Del Norte and Lake counties were not informed, and were left to shoulder pending cases.

Hagen will voluntarily finish a timber theft case in Del Norte County set to begin today.

Reached on Tuesday, Hagen would not comment.

”I cannot tell you why he was terminated,” Keat said, and referred the Times-Standard to the district attorney's association.

The nonprofit's Executive Director Dave LaBahn said he could not talk about the matter, citing personnel policy. He did say that the association planned to provide the counties with another environmental circuit prosecutor.

The association didn't inform Del Norte or Lake counties' district attorneys of Hagen's termination.

Del Norte District Attorney Mike Riese said many environmental crimes are specialized, labor-intensive cases. Having Hagen free of charge was an asset to the Del Norte office, Riese said, and an asset with a solid record of good resolutions.

”He believes in what he's doing,” Riese said. “It's going to be a loss I'm going to have to cope with.”

He wondered if Hagen's dismissal had something to do with Hagen's concerns about the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee's endorsement process, something denied by Gallegos in another media report.

At a March meeting Hagen opposed endorsing any Democratic candidate running against another Democrat, said committee member Claire Courtney. That happened to include his boss, among other candidates. But Courtney said Hagen was not pressing to endorse someone else over Gallegos.

”He was looking at the process,” Courtney said, “not at the person.”

The committee ended up endorsing Gallegos.

Hagen pursued complicated pollution cases against Louisiana-Pacific Corp. and Sierra Pacific Industries that led to significant settlements. He also recently brokered a $125,000 settlement with Stockton Pacific Enterprises, which was investigated for numerous pollution permit violations at the Samoa pulp mill.

Lt. Jon Wilcox with the California Department of Fish and Game called Hagen “critical” to Fish and Game. So-called hook-and-bullet crimes are frequently passed to the least experienced attorneys, Wilcox said, but Hagen was able to take up cases of particular concern to wardens. He said it is important to fill the position.

Lake County District Attorney Gary Luck said that he planned to inquire about Hagen's termination, and why the elected DAs he worked with weren't informed.

”Normally they provide us the courtesy,” Luck said.