Gallegos' infamous politically motivated lawsuit slips beneath the waves. Gallegos is done.
The Journal You’d have expected sadness, grief, maybe anger. Nothing of it. When District Attorney Paul Gallegos called his mini-press conference last week to respond to the appellate court’s decision to kill, yet again, his massive fraud lawsuit against the Pacific Lumber Co., the DA himself was perfectly accommodating and upbeat. From Gallegos’ demeanor, you’d never have guessed that California’s First District Court of Appeals had, in a stroke, erased his whole reason for being.
Rightly or wrongly, Gallegos’ whole career as a prosecutor has been tied up with this suit, which he filed shortly after taking office in 2003. The backdrop was the Headwaters Forest deal, in which the state and federal governments bought the last remaining giant old-growth redwood stand in private hands from Palco and simultaneously set up a long-term harvesting regime for the company’s remaining holdings. In the suit, Gallegos and his then-assistant DA, Tim Stoen , with help from local activist and pot doctor Ken Miller , alleged that Pacific Lumber defrauded the public in the late ’90s when the company submitted incorrect data on the relationship between logging and landslides to California regulatory agencies. (The company corrected the data, but — alleged the DA — too late.) The false landslide data allowed the company to secure a much greater rate of harvest than otherwise would have been possible, the DA argued. His suit sought restitution to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The suit set off a shitstorm that now, five years later, people would find difficult to credit. Pacific Lumber funded a massive recall attempt against the DA, bringing in all kinds of out-of-town sharpies to do some very dirty political work. Gallegos himself became a folk hero, acquiring an aura of sainthood to some and of deviltry to others. Everything in the county boiled down to a single question — were you for Gallegos, or were you for Maxxam? If you answered wrongly, you were secretly beholden to pure evil. This vibe stuck around for quite a while, long after the failure of the recall and even after a trial court threw out the suit against Palco, two and a half years ago. (See “Case Dismissed,” July 7, 2005.) When, in 2006, Gallegos was faced by a challenge from law-and-order-minded Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman , the three basic cases to be made for Gallegos were that: a) the cops didn’t like him, b) he had basically legalized pot and c) the Palco case was on appeal. Despite the office chaos endemic to Gallegos’ tenure as DA and the dissolution of programs like the Child Abuse Services Team, these three factors and the aura remaining around him from the recall fight were enough to put him over the top.
What’s left? As stated above, Gallegos didn’t seem very perturbed by the ruling. Though it had been out for a full day before the press conference, he said that he hadn’t read it until a couple of hours before the conference. He disagreed with the court’s ruling — that Palco’s actions fell under the First Amendment-guaranteed right to lobby the government, and probably didn’t affect the outcome anyway — but he said that he respected that this was apparently the law.
“Candidly, I get positive opinions, not negative ones,” Gallegos said. “You’ve got a good 40 percent of the population that says ‘See, I told you so,’ and you’ve got 40 percent that say, ‘Darn, it didn’t work.’”
All in all, Gallegos said, it was worth it. Reasonably, he argued that the case itself wasn’t divisive; it was, he said, “a flashpoint of preexisting divisiveness or animosity in this community.” True enough, as far as it goes. But it’s still shocking to go back over the last five years and tally up all the hatred, all the paranoia, all the frenzied dark energy expended on this lawsuit and on the Gallegos persona, both by his detractors and his supporters. And then to realize that is was all over nothing, in the end.
There is one thing missing here - and that is the story of the big money and out-of-town-sharpies brought in to do some very dirty political work on Gallegos' behalf. One of those was a North Coast Journal cover story.