SAVE: Paul Gallegos restored honor to DA's office, Ken Miller's MY WORD revisionist history

Paul Gallegos restored honor to DA's office
Ken Miller/My Word
POSTED: 12/14/2013 02:35:33 AM PST
UPDATED: 12/14/2013 02:35:34 AM PST

Susan Dodd celebrates Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos' coming departure with a litany of accusations (”Good riddance to Paul Gallegos,” Times-Standard, Dec. 6, Page A4), but misses his signature accomplishment: restoring dignity, independence and integrity to an office that was blind to some of Humboldt's most successful crooks. Two examples are illustrative:
Mr. Gallegos' courageous lawsuit vs. Maxxam/Pacific Lumber stood out in stark contrast to the conciliatory stance adopted by every other political and regulatory agency official, who acted mostly as enablers, beneficiaries, or appeasers, while the venerable PL was looted, and our watersheds and forests liquidated with catastrophic consequences for residents, fish, and the future of our forest products industry.

Despite accumulating a record of California Department of Forestry violations, despite causing ongoing flooding and loss of domestic water supplies in Elk River, despite despoiling Freshwater, Jordan, Stitz, and Bear Creeks as well, our regulators and policymakers stood by while protesters were castigated and arrested. When the California Regional Water Board entered the fray with its independent authority, local ranchers and foresters rose up to defend Maxxam/PL, and opposed appropriate regulations to restore water quality, thereby turning against their own neighbors.

It was in this context that Gallegos showed his independence and integrity. He challenged only one of Maxxam/PL's deceitful practices, when PL allegedly cheated on the environmental documents submitted in support of the Headwaters Deal.

Maxxam prevailed only because of legal technicalities that in part may be summed up as “The Right to Lie.” But Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson, before his unfortunate removal from the case, ruled that if PL/Maxxam's actions prevented fruition of the process, it could be guilty of “extrinsic fraud,” thereby bypassing that so-called right to lie. And prevent it it would have: Another Wilson, Richard, former head of CDF, proclaimed that had he been aware of the evidence, he would not have approved the deal.

It should be recalled that Gallegos was forced to go it alone against Hurwitz's legal team when our supervisors declined to accept the offer of pro bono legal assistance from the powerful law firm of Cotchett et al. in the Bay Area. That's right: they declined free legal help from one of the state's finest law firms, which pretty much sums up the county's near total capitulation to, and conflicts of interest with, Maxxam during the firm's two decades of rapacious liquidation in Humboldt County.

Former Supervisor Roger Rodoni rented hundreds of acres from Maxxam/PL for a pittance, and former Supervisor Bonnie Neely was married to Gallegos' opponent, Terry Farmer, who lost the 2000 election.

It's no wonder that Maxxam financed the failed recall of Mr. Gallegos.

Unsurprisingly, Gallegos lost in court against the high-priced team of lawyers for Maxxam/PL, but we are the big losers.

Paul took a lot of heat that should rightly have been directed at the biggest crooks to despoil our county in modern times.

In another act of political independence and bravery, Gallegos took the highly unusual, and politically and personally risky, step of prosecuting the architects of the killing of Cheri Lynn Moore. Here you had a mentally distraught woman armed with a flare gun, holed up in her own apartment in downtown Eureka. She wanted help, so she called mental health services, and the cops went into action. After denying her friend access, claiming Ms. Moore posed an imminent risk of fire, they charged her locked door and killed her when she turned in surprise holding the flare gun, unfired.

Had the Eureka SWAT police evacuated her building, called in the fire department, consulted ballistic experts about flares, and waited while mental health professionals resolved the now safely secured standoff, Cheri Lynn Moore would be alive today. Entering the apartment with shields and fire extinguishers would have resulted in the same end.

Instead, led by Chief Douglas and Lt. Zanotti, they did the opposite. Despite claiming imminent fire hazard, police stationed their command and control center below the proclaimed fire threat instead of safely across the street with a view of her apartment, and charged into her apartment without shields or extinguishers.

Again, legal technicalities involving the Grand Jury scuttled Mr. Gallegos' laudable effort to hold the perpetrators accountable.

But Gallegos' gutsy efforts will and should be long remembered, and recounted, not as unsuccessful (or “botched”), but as instances of courage and integrity in the face of fire, and examples of why we need a DA who is independent of, and unintimidated by, the powers that be.

Ken Miller resides in McKinleyville.