Monday, March 1, 2004

Recall targets California prosecutor who took on lumber in Redwood Country [AP]

Recall targets California prosecutor who took on lumber in Redwood Country [AP]

by Paul Elias, Associated Press Writer

March 1, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A new district attorney who has accused a huge lumber firm of fraud in California redwood country could see his political career felled by a threatened recall.

The Pacific Lumber Co., through its corporate parent Maxxam Inc. of Houston, has fueled the recall of District Attorney Paul Gallegos with $229,000 in contributions.

The company and Gallegos detractors say the district attorney is too lenient with criminals, too friendly with radical environmental activists and too accommodating to marijuana smokers who say they use the drug for medicinal purposes.

The district attorney's supporters, though, say the Pacific Lumber-backed recall is retaliation for Gallegos's suit against the timber company in February 2003, a month after he took office.

"There is no way the Maxxam corporation in Houston can be this concerned with the rate of plea bargains in Humboldt County," said Gallegos campaign manager Richard Salzman.

An unusually high voter turnout was expected Tuesday in Humboldt County to determine whether Gallegos should be ousted. With a combined $500,000 in contributions expected to be spent, the campaign has turned out to be the most expensive in county history.

The dispute has exposed long-simmering tensions in this community along California's far north coast, where the old mainstays of logging and fishing have faltered and new industries -- and people -- are moving in.

The dispute is also being closely watched by fellow district attorneys, who are concerned that recall success in Humboldt County will spark similar efforts against them.

"The unusual amount of money being raised is also drawing a lot of interest," said David LaBahn, executive director of the California District Attorneys Association.

LaBahn said the association has no position on the recall.

Shortly after taking office, Gallegos filed suit against Pacific Lumber, alleging the company provided false data during a 1999 deal on the possibility that its logging plans could create landslides. His suit seeks to force the company to pay back part of the $300 million it got for the deal.

Pacific Lumber officials deny the allegations and are seeking sanctions against Gallegos for filing suit. Pacific Lumber spokeswoman Erin Dunn didn't return telephone calls Monday.