In The News: Case Closed - State prosecutor says he won't take the Salzman matter to court

Case Closed - by HELEN SANDERSON/North Coast Journal December 22, 2005

In a letter to the Trinidad Police Department, an attorney with the California Attorney General's Office wrote last week that while it seems Richard Salzman is guilty of using other people's names to write letters for publication in newspapers, any attempt to prosecute him would likely be unsuccessful.

The letter appears to bring the three-month-old investigation of Salzman to an end, with no charges filed against the political campaigner.

The word came down in a Dec. 12 letter from Deputy Attorney General Keith Lyon to Trinidad Police Chief Ken Thrailkill, who led the initial investigation against Salzman, a Trinidad resident.

Lyon wrote that Salzman "technically violated" and undermined the "spirit" of California Penal Code 538(a), the "False Personation and Cheats" section of the code. The section makes it is a misdemeanor for a person to sign "any letter addressed to a newspaper with the name of a person other than himself ... with intent to lead the newspaper to believe that such letter was written by the person whose name is signed thereto."

"However," Lyons wrote, "I do not believe that there is a reasonable probability of a unanimous conviction by a jury of 12 individuals." He went on to state that attempting to prosecute Salzman "would not be a wise use of resources." Thrailkill said the estimated cost for state lawyers to prosecute the case in Humboldt County would have been $30,000.

It was also Lyon's opinion that Salzman did not commit identity theft -- a felony charge -- because he "had, or arguably had, permission to sign for others [in his letters to editors]."

Lyon also notes that Salzman used the name of his dog, Sarah Salzman to submit one letter.

"This is not a crime because Sarah Salzman is not a person," he wrote.

When the Journal revealed Sept. 1 that Salzman used the name of Dick Wyatt, a Fortuna resident, as well as the names R. Trent Williams and R. Johnson to publish letters, a number of left-leaning local residents defended his actions. But defense later turned to public pillory at a Trinidad Town Hall meeting, where Chief Thrailkill said he was dubbed a "Gestapo" for pursuing the case.

"There's a thought out there, that [public criticism] is all part of the job," Thrailkill said. "It does not mean that when you are personally attacked it doesn't affect you. But as a professional department you have to move on and do what you are hired to do."

The criminal investigation began after Eureka Reporter Managing Editor Glenn Franco Simmons filed an official complaint against Salzman.

Salzman e-mailed area media outlets on Dec. 15, issuing the first press release this paper has received from him since Aug. 28, when he admitted to submitting letters to the editor using a "pen name."

"I'm pleased that the matter has been resolved and I look forward to returning my attention to the vital quality-of-life issues facing Humboldt County.

"As my lawyer explained to me, the refusal of the Attorney General's office to file any charges indicates that the allegation didn't even clear the first hurdle for entry into the criminal justice system."

Salzman's Arcata attorney, Russ Clanton, has handled local high-profile cases, including the 2000 win against the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department for illegally seizing the medical marijuana of Chris Giauque.

A Tuesday morning phone call to Clanton was not returned before deadline. Power was out at his Arcata office following a rainstorm.

Salzman's case was forwarded to the state Attorney General on Nov. 15, after the Humboldt County District Attorney's office declined to investigate, citing DA Paul Gallegos' potential conflict of interest in the matter.

Salzman, the coordinator of the Alliance for Ethical Business, was Gallegos' campaign manager, directing a successful battle against a Pacific Lumber Co.-sponsored attempt to recall the DA in 2004.

"I don't see Richard working on my [2006] campaign at this point," Gallegos said on Monday. "Richard is a great friend, he has been a great friend to me. I have great strong feelings for him but I don't think it would be appropriate."

Both Councilmember Chris Kerrigan and Fifth District Supervisor Jill Geist have since distanced themselves from the man who worked to get them into office. For the most part, Gallegos seems to be following suit, though he still considers Salzman a friend. Still, they have not spoken in recent months, save for a passing "hello" and "happy holidays" during a chance encounter in an Arcata restaurant.

"There's a sadness you feel when a bad thing happens to your friend, when you don't get to talk to your friend anymore because of what's going on in their lives," Gallegos said. "That was painful, in all candor. It was sad for me. It's like losing someone."

In recent months would-be campaign managers have offered to take over Gallegos' next run, but the DA mentioned no names.

"My campaign is next year, not this year," he said.