Wednesday, November 26, 2003

PL says it backed DA recall effort [North Coast Journal]

PL says it backed DA recall effort [North Coast Journal]

by Hank Sims, North Coast Journal

The Pacific Lumber Company has recently contributed "significant" time and money to the drive to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos, according to an internal company letter obtained by the Journal.

The letter, which is printed on Pacific Lumber letterhead, is signed by CEO Robert E. Manne and addressed to company employees.

If the letter is authentic, the move represents a switch in position for the company, which is the subject of a multimillion dollar fraud suit brought by the DA shortly after Gallegos took office. Previously, PL had stated that it would not take a stand in the recall effort.

"As a company, we had not participated in the recall effort until recent weeks when our employees, community members and the recall committee sought our support," read the letter, dated Oct. 24. "We decided to contribute time and money to the effort to give the voters of Humboldt County an opportunity to decide the question of recalling the DA for themselves.

"In that spirit, PALCO and other businesses and individuals, who are concerned about the DA’s actions, contributed significant funds to ensure that the voters would have their say. To date, our support has totaled more than $40,000 in `in-kind’ support of the signature gathering effort."

The Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos’ most recent campaign finance disclosure forms, which cover a three-month period ending Sept. 30, make no mention of any Pacific Lumber donations to the campaign. Instead, they show only $500 in donations from three employees of the company and Britt Lumber, a PL subsidiary.

Committee spokesman Rick Brazeau said that he was not certain what, or how much, the company had given to the campaign, but said that the information "will be filed at the appropriate time."

Manne’s letter was sent the day after the committee handed in more than 16,900 signatures gathered in support of the recall. During the previous week, the campaign hired an out-of-town signature-gathering firm, US Petitions, to orchestrate a last-minute push for signatures. During the push, signature gatherers were paid a fee of $8 per signature, which led some to believe that the campaign had received a large infusion of cash in its final days.

In the letter, Manne calls the county’s lawsuit against the company "baseless and politically motivated," and asks, rhetorically, whether the company should simply "sit back and allow [it] to happen." He also charges that the Gallegos administration undermines the moral fabric of the county.

"[A]re the citizens to sit back and allow the family values of Humboldt County to be deteriorated on a weekly basis by our new DA?" the letter asks. "If we had known this, would we have voted for him? I think not."

Repeated calls to Manne and other PL officials were not returned Tuesday.

Richard Salzman, coordinator of the pro-Gallegos Alliance for Ethical Business, said on Tuesday that the letter confirms what Gallegos supporters had long suspected — that PL was behind the recall drive.

"In PALCO’s world, this is how you fight a lawsuit," he said. "You remove the prosecutor."

The Oct. 24 letter, together with an earlier Manne letter to PL employees on Sept. 11, also provides insight into how the CEO views critics of the company’s logging practices.

In the earlier letter, Manne discusses "character and integrity," and argues that the DA’s office, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Environmental Protection Information Center and residents of the Freshwater area are all lacking in those qualities.

"The only conclusion I can reach as to why they continue their attacks against us is that they lead empty lives and need to put blame on everything around them in order to negatively impact those that are happier than them," Manne writes. "This gives them power with their constituents and importance in the eyes of their friends and other PALCO haters."

Mark Lovelace, president of the Humboldt Watershed Council, said that Manne’s characterization of the company’s critics was wide of the mark.

"I know that there are people in the community who believe that the environmentalists just want to shut down the timber industry," he said. "That is simply not the case, and I would expect a more nuanced view from the CEO of the company.

"I don’t know which is worse — if he believes this stuff or if he doesn’t believe it, and just puts it out there to divide the community."

Reached at his office Tuesday, Gallegos said that he was not a "PALCO hater" and did not have a "get PALCO attitude."

"Pacific Lumber is a defendant, one of the thousands of defendants we have here," Gallegos said. "They are entitled to a presumption of innocence, they are entitled to a day in court. Let’s settle this case in court."

Friday, November 7, 2003

Pacific Lumber Aids Effort to Recall D.A. [L.A. Times]

Pacific Lumber Aids Effort to Recall D.A. [L.A. Times]

Man who sued the timber firm will face an ouster vote in March
by Rone Tempest, L.A. Times Staff Writer

After an upstart district attorney charged Pacific Lumber Co. with fraud early this year, the Northern California timber giant was not content to just fight it out in the courts.

When a local campaign to recall Humboldt County Dist. Atty. Paul V. Gallegos began to flag last month, Scotia-based Pacific Lumber came to the rescue, providing an infusion of cash, sending out thousands of pro-recall mailers, granting employees paid leave to work on the campaign and paying professional circulators as much as $8 for every signature they could add to the recall petition.

At that point, the campaign organizers had less than a month to garner enough signatures to make the recall effort qualify for the March 2004 ballot.

It appears the company's efforts have paid off. On Thursday, the county elections office ruled that, by a narrow margin, enough signatures had been gathered to force a March recall vote.

Pacific Lumber spokesman Jim Branham estimated the company had spent $40,000 in the closing days of the recall campaign. "The recall campaign had hit a wall," he said. "The organizers had asked for our help. We felt a last push was needed."

Pacific Lumber's involvement in the recall appears to fall outside the scope of any state law, including those administered by the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state agency that regulates campaign finance.

"I've never heard of a situation like this before, where a defendant uses an election to go after the person bringing the lawsuit," said Bob Stern, former general counsel of the commission and now president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. "But there is clearly no prohibition. In a state that elects D.A.'s and judges, it would be very difficult, and probably unconstitutional, to regulate this."

The lawsuit filed by Gallegos last spring contends that Pacific Lumber deceived state agencies about its timber-cutting plans, resulting in massive landslide and flooding damage to local streams and farms. The company is accused of sidestepping environmental restrictions established under the historic 1999 Headwaters agreement, which set aside 7,500 acres of ancient redwoods in a public trust.

Pacific Lumber spokesman Branham calls the suit's allegations "bogus."

Company lawyers argue that the case has no merit and have sought its dismissal.

The lawsuit is so sensitive that two Humboldt Superior Court judges recused themselves from hearing the case. Another judge, Richard Wilson, agreed to hear dismissal motions, which are still pending. But the overall case was recently transferred to a retired judge in Lake County.

The effort to oust Gallegos was launched shortly after the district attorney filed his lawsuit. However, the main claims initially voiced by recall proponents, who included Fortuna Mayor Mel Berti and conservative former timber executive Robin Arkley Sr., were that Gallegos was soft on crime.

Gallegos, a 42-year-old USC graduate who moved to Eureka from Southern California nine years ago, characterized the recall as a battle between "small-mindedness, exclusion and good-old-boyism" and equality under the law.

"We cannot have two levels of justice in Humboldt County," Gallegos said. "That is how simple it is."

The recall campaign is the latest chapter in the redwood country timber wars, which pit the North Coast's largest private employer against local environmentalists, retirees and professionals who have settled there in recent years ? many of whom support Gallegos.

Despite the general shrinking of the California timber industry, Pacific Lumber, with its workforce of 900, remains a potent force in the region. According to Branham, the company does business with 400 local companies, generating $54 million in spending on goods and services.

Early in the recall push, Pacific Lumber remained out of the fray.

But for Gallegos supporters, the recall was always about the lawsuit, which marked the first time a senior elected official had dared to confront the timber giant, a subsidiary of Houston-based Maxxam Corp. and a dominating force in Humboldt politics for more than 100 years.

Pacific Lumber's last-minute actions to save the recall campaign were revealed this week in a letter to employees from company President Robert Manne. The letter was first reported Wednesday by the Eureka Times-Standard.

In a Thursday editorial, the Times-Standard scolded Pacific Lumber.

"Dealing with the allegation ? whether founded or not ? eliminating the accuser," the Times-Standard editorial argued, "is a doubtful way of proving one's case. It's a downright poor way to win a public relations contest."

Also on Thursday, the Eureka newspaper published an article showing that, under Gallegos, criminal prosecutions have actually increased from previous levels.

Gallegos' supporters were delighted by the developments.

"Now that it is public record that the recall effort is being funded by Pacific Lumber," said Richard Salzman, who heads the pro-Gallegos Alliance for Ethical Business, "we can move forward with an election dealing with the one and only real issue: whether the district attorney has the right to file a lawsuit against Maxxam's Pacific Lumber Co."

As of Thursday, no candidate had surfaced to oppose Gallegos in the recall vote.