The Truth Is a Hammer, Humboldt DA Takes on Pacific Lumber

In a complaint filed February 23, 2003, in the Superior Court of California, Humboldt County, District Attorney (DA) Paul Gallegos and his legal team have charged The Pacific Lumber Company (PL) with "Deceptive Concealment," "Fraudulent Representation," and "Fraudulent Suppression" under California's Unfair Competition Law. The suit "seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief for harm to property rights and harm to ancient redwoods inflicted on the people of Humboldt County" by Pacific Lumber's alleged "unfair and fraudulent business practices."

The complaint contends that PL falsified data regarding landslide risks from timber harvesting on unstable slopes. Based on this allegedly false landslide data and suppression of additional information PL was granted approval for its preferred cutting plan. According to the DA, the approved plan thereby allowed the company "to cut down some 100,000 trees on unstable slopes so as to earn an additional $40 million per year."

As a result of PL's actions, the DA claims, for instance, that over the past three years, the company was "free to cut down trees on unstable slopes based on it deception... [resulting] in major landslides causing destruction to ancient redwoods, serious harm to Humboldt Bay, and serious harm to streams, bridges, roads, homes, and property rights for the people of Humboldt County."

It must be difficult to battle one of the county's largest employers. Assistant DA Timothy Stoen notes that when outside attorneys with a strong concern for the public interest offered to assist the prosecution team, getting paid only a percentage of any financial penalties recovered, the County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 against such action-in a room purposely packed full of loggers. According to Stoen, the powerful company has threatened to sue his office, the county, and him personally.

The county's complaint seeks damages in the amount of $2,500 for every tree that would be logged under the plan that was approved based on PL's data-a potential $250 million fine-and the cessation of all logging operations that would not have been allowed had the decision been based on the best scientific data available. Says Stoen, "The truth is a hammer, and we've got the hammer."

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