An end to the saga
The suit by the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office against Pacific Lumber Co. appears to have reached its end, after years of strife and division.
It seems so long ago when District Attorney Paul Gallegos and his then right-hand man, Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen, announced the suit in 2003. For skeptics and enemies of Palco, the suit seemed like justice riding to the rescue -- the government taking on corporate power gone awry.
For others, though, the suit was seen as ill-thought-out attack on Humboldt County's historical way of life, and on one of the county's main economic engines.
Across the board, the suit split the county into various sides and ultimately led to the attempted recall of Gallegos, an effort that failed but brought even more division, more angst and more political bloodbath.
Gallegos survived the recall, but lost the suit.
Filed in February 2003, it claimed Palco submitted faulty studies during the Headwaters Forest negotiations to get the California Department of Forestry to adopt a less restrictive long-term logging plan. Gallegos' second amended complaint was thrown out of Humboldt County Superior Court by visiting Judge Richard Freeborn, a ruling upheld by the appeals court.
The logging plan was part of the agreement to sell the 7,400-acre Headwaters Forest and other groves for $480 million. Gallegos argued that the company secured it by submitting false data on landslides in one watershed and not submitting a correction until the last minute.
Palco's lobbying efforts with the state were the real force behind CDF's decision to drop the stricter logging plan and adopt a less restrictive one, the appeals court judges determined. The California Environmental Quality Act proceedings during the Headwaters discussions were the appropriate venue to consider if any evidence presented was false, they wrote.
Those lobbying efforts are privileged under state unfair competition laws, the ruling reads. The court also determined that Palco is protected by the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine that shields anyone petitioning the government or government agencies against civil liability, unless they are engaged in a “sham.”
Palco's efforts didn't meet the definition of a sham, the court wrote.
At this point we have to ask whether the suit was worth the cost, both monetarily and in the social repercussions that split this community so violently down the middle.
When Gallegos initially ran for office, he was criticized by some for -- to say it plainly -- not being a very good attorney. The results of this case don't do much to help his case.
He says now that he does not regret bringing the case. Should he? There's no easy answer there, but once voters make that determination in their own minds, the next question is whether Gallegos should pay the price with his job come next election.
On this case rested Gallegos' legacy as the Humboldt County district attorney. While some would uphold him as a visionary and a fighter, all we have seen after more than a term in office is that he brings division under the name of high ideals, and then fails to deliver on that promise.
It makes us wonder if the real motivation behind this suit was self-aggrandizement, rather than the well-being of Humboldt County residents.
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