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War games


One thing can be said about the effort to drive District Attorney Paul Gallegos from office. It's been transparent from the beginning.

As far as we're aware, "Recall the DA" signs were first brandished publicly on the day Gallegos went before the Board of Supervisors with his request for outside legal assistance in his fraud suit against the Pacific Lumber Co., which he had filed two weeks previous. The chambers that day 11 months ago were packed, largely with PL managers and workers. Outside, logging trucks lined the streets in front of the courthouse. It was here that the signs first appeared. It didn't take a genius to make the connection: Those calling for Gallegos' recall were doing so because they were angry about the PL suit.

But it wasn't long before leaders of the fledgling recall movement offered a different reason: Gallegos, they said, deserves to be recalled because he's soft on crime. It was an absurd claim -- Gallegos had only been on the job three months, if that. But it made sense politically. To be successful in ousting the new DA, recall proponents knew they'd have to have a broader base of support than the timber industry and its supporters.

The distancing from the suit was soon taken up by officials with Pacific Lumber, who repeatedly told the press over the spring and summer that the company would not get involved in the recall drive.

By the fall it was becoming clear that another strategy shift was needed. The signature gathering drive was faltering, and if it failed there wouldn't be any recall at all.

In stepped the main beneficiary of a change in leadership at the DA's office -- Pacific Lumber. CEO Robert Manne, in an Oct. 24 letter to employees, made it crystal clear that the company was involved in the recall effort -- to the tune of $40,000. "When the new DA launches a baseless and politically motivated lawsuit against one of the largest timber companies in the country, are we to sit back and allow that to happen?" Manne asked.

Forget about the earlier pledge to stay above the fray; the goal now was signatures. Out-of-state signature collectors were brought in and the necessary amount of John and Jane Hancocks was obtained at the 11th hour. Success, and it was all due to Pacific Lumber, which directly paid US Petitions, the firm that led the drive.

But the fact that the defendant in a fraud suit -- Texas financier Charles Hurwitz, in this case -- is bankrolling the effort to unseat the district attorney who is suing him doesn't look good; particularly since Hurwitz is a controversial figure at best. And so last week another shift: Manne's declaration that PL "wants its day in court."

In a Jan. 29 letter to the three replacement candidates, Manne said, "I want to assure you that our company has no desire to have the next District Attorney drop this case without a ruling from the Humboldt County Superior Court." Of course, the ruling Manne wants is for Judge Christopher Wilson to throw out the case, something PL requested in a formal motion months ago. That's the day in court he's talking about, not a full-blown trial.

It's no accident that Manne only came forward after weeks of polling by a Los Angeles firm, polling paid for by The Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos, which of course is being financially supported by PL. While we don't know the results, we suspect they reveal that people aren't comfortable with PL's heavy-handed involvement in the recall.

There's another dimension to all this. Pacific Lumber is undoubtedly bankrolling the recall because doing so is cheaper than paying attorneys to defend the company in court. That's true even if the expected television advertising blitz of the next few weeks pushes the company's financial stake in the recall as high as $100,000 or even $200,000.

Big money to you and me, but a small price for Hurwitz if it means Gallegos -- and the lawsuit -- go away.





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