During a delicious late afternoon feast of leftover turkey, homegrown organic potatoes and rustic kitchen-crafted cranberry sauce all mashed together, the final results of the tight and intense Humboldt County District Attorney’s race came in:
Paul Gallegos, the standing–and surfing–DA, faced former Deputy DA Allison Jackson in a knuckle-whitening duel. Returns early election night November 2nd showed challenger Jackson ahead by 16 points, but when the sun rose on the 3rd, Gallegos was ahead 51.3 percent to 48.3 percent. But close to 13,000 ballots, mainly provisional and walk-in, as well as last minute mail-in ballots remained outstanding. Those votes have finally been certified.
Full disclosure: I am Gallegos supporter. He believes in environmental stewardship, self-determination, upholding the Constitution, and personal responsibility. And he surfs.
Gallegos’ opponent Allison Jackson, also lifelong Democrat, was fired from the DA’s office in 2004 for reasons secured in personnel files, ran as a law and order candidate, hard on crime and was supported by the county’s conservatives. Jackson is currently a partner in Harland Law Firm in Eureka, where she handles a wide variety of civil cases. She criticized Gallegos
saying he has failed as an administrator and essentially has been soft on crime by allowing some “mind-boggling” plea bargains to occur on his watch.
Ideally, our national politics and policies are shaped on a local level. Gallegos drew national attention for several bold acts as DA: He recently won a multi-million dollar law suit against Skilled Health Care Group, Inc., related corporations, and five of the defendants’ skilled nursing facilities in Humboldt County. The complaint alleged that the defendants intentionally failed to provide sufficient direct nursing care staffing for elderly residents at their skilled nursing facilities. The case spread to four counties in California and impacted Skilled Health Care’s operations in seven states.
Gallegos also instituted guidelines for medical marijuana which could be a model for all California counties and states with MMJ laws.
Additionally, under new case law allowing for restitution through the criminal courts, Gallegos’ office secured a judgment on behalf of bicyclist Greg Jennings’ widow for lost financial support when Jennings was killed by Alan Bear who lost control of his truck. Gallegos had filed a felony case against Bear, but lack of evidence reduced charges to a misdemeanor. Bear was sentenced to the maximum for one year in prison on the reduced charges; his widow received the largest criminal restitution order in Humboldt County history, avoiding the cost and time of civil attorneys. That’s some effective tort reform!
Gallegos faced recall in 2004, when Pacific Lumber (PALCO) launched an aggressive campaign against Gallegos, donating 90% of the money raised to fund the recall effort, which included paying petitioners $8 per pro-recall signature collected for ballot qualification. Gallegos’ home was broken into twice, and emails from his office were leaked to media. The cause of the recall? On behalf of Humboldt County, the District Attorney brought suit against PALCO for violations of the California Business and Professions Code. Gallegos:
sued Pacific Lumber on the grounds that the corporation had provided the state with deliberately fabricated information regarding the potential environmental impact of its logging. The six-count litigation asserted that the company’s misleading attempt to generate a greater profit had “caused destruction to ancient redwoods, serious harm to Humboldt Bay, and serious harm to streams, bridges, roads, homes, and property rights of Humboldt County.”
Moreover, Gallegos sought an additional $2,500 for each tree that was cut, a lawsuit that had the potential of costing the corporation over $250 million. When asked about his decision to pursue the case, Gallegos responded, “Government needs to represent and treat everyone equal. Whenever you have businesses engaged in unlawful fraudulent activity…it affects the overall integrity in our systems. We cannot have two levels of justice in Humboldt County. That is how simple it is.”
Gallegos beat the recall attempt 61% to 39%. At the time of the recall, Pacific Lumber was a major force in Humboldt County, employing nearly 900 workers and generating over $54 million in business activities.
In 1998 Pacific Lumber was cited for fourteen violations of state forestry laws. A year later
Pacific Lumber agreed to the Headwaters Forest settlement in which it would sell 5,600 acres of land to the state as a public trust for $480 million. In return, the company would be allowed to log the remaining 211,000 acres, although it would have to follow a strict set of environmental restrictions. However, it was later discovered that the company had lied to state officials about the risk of cutting down trees on unstable slopes in order to make an additional profit of $40 million per year. Richard Wilson, the Department of Forestry’s director, stated that if h e had been given accurate information, he would not have sanctioned the company’s logging plan.
(As a side note, during peaceful protests of the Pacific Lumber at the company’s offices, on timber sites, and in Congressmember Frank Riggs’ office in 1997, officers from the Eureka Police Department and/or the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department applied pepper spray directly to the eyes of the civilly disobedient who were chained together in passive devices. Condemned by Amnesty International and several major newspapers, the action drew the ACLU into a lawsuit brought by the victims against Humboldt County, the county sheriff, city police, and sheriff’s deputies, and police officers; the 9th Circuit Court later ruled law enforcement personnel used excessive force, a violation the Fourth Amendment. tl/dr: PALCO pretty much ran things in Humboldt until Gallegos was elected and the Headwaters Forest Defense case drew international attention.)
In 2003, a judge concurred with the Humboldt Watershed Council that Pacific Lumber had violated environmental regulations, but refused to penalize the corporation or even slow down its logging. Furthermore, the California Fish and Game Department did nothing to punish the company. But then Gallegos filed suit against Pacific Lumber for fraud, setting off the recall. The suit was dismissed in 2008, with the First District Court ruling that
“Pacific Lumber’s communications, whether fraudulent or not, fall squarely within the scope of the litigation privilege,” wrote Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner, sitting by assignment to the First District…Pacific Lumber’s lobbying is “a classic form of political expression” that is immune from liability under Noerr-Pennington.
Pacific Lumber has since filed for bankruptcy, something Skilled Health attempted; Gallegos negotiated a settlement with the nursing home giant, insuring that those harmed will benefit form the judgment and the company will stay in business, providing housing and care for the elderly and employment throughout the country.
Gallegos’s win enhances Kamala Harris’ victory for California Attorney General and Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial success, hopefully ushering in an era of civil and environmental rights in our state that will embrace a justice which is blind to the stature of those involved, seeking instead to defend truth, the environment, the populace, and the Constitution.