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Feb. 24, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

No sanctions against DA in Palco case
Schectman appears as new deputy

From Humboldt to Hollywood
Local prof helped on production of Sideways


The Weekly Wrap

TRAILER CRASH UPDATE: The Carole Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation announced last week that it would contribute $5,000 to the growing reward fund in the case of the Myrtle Avenue car crash that took the lives of Cody Wertz and Timothy Robertson on Dec. 4. (Francis and Carole Carrington of Korbel started their foundation after the 1999 Yosemite murders of their daughter, Carole Sund, granddaughter Juli Sund and a friend, Silvina Pelosso.) Officer Stefanie Barnwell of the California Highway Patrol said Tuesday that the foundation's offer has already led to possible new information in the case. "We are following up on some leads that have come in since the news conference," she said. The total reward fund now stands at about $15,000. Meanwhile, no charges have yet been filed against Richard Knife of Eureka, the owner of the trailer that caused the crash after it was left in the middle of the road. The CHP forwarded Knife's name to the District Attorney's Office in late December; Barnwell speculated that the DA may have been waiting for the final collision report in the accident, which was completed last week. The CHP said that it had no reason to believe that Knife was responsible for moving the trailer into the road.

HSU ISSUES GROWTH REPORT: A team of Humboldt State University researchers has released a study on the county's future expansion. The report, entitled "Room to Grow?," analyzes different growth rates and scenarios, some of which were proposed by community groups last year during the debate over the county's ongoing general plan update. Professors Steve Steinberg and Michael Smith write that Humboldt County can accommodate future population growth without building new homes on ranch and timber lands if it focuses new construction in urban areas. There is a link to the full report on the university's Web page, Look in the Humboldt State News Online section.

FAKE BOMB FOUND AT TARGET: Eureka police responded last Wednesday morning to a call from a Target employee who said that a possible explosive had been found in a store restroom, police said. Police and fire officials, as well as the county Sheriff's Office explosives team responded to the scene, where they X-rayed the device and found that it was a fake.

COLLISION KILLS RIO DELL WOMAN: A Rio Dell woman was killed in a head-on car crash Sunday afternoon when an oncoming vehicle swerved into her lane on Highway 101, north of Spyrock Road near Laytonville, the California Highway Patrol said. Veronica Joan Greene, 39, was driving northbound with three passengers in a 2004 Dodge Neon, when Steven Dendas, 54, of Vallejo lost control of his 1992 Oldsmobile and crossed into Greene's lane, the CHP said. Dendas, along with Greene's passengers, Steven L. Morehead, 44, of Rio Dell, Jared Valentine, 16, of Ukiah, and Erin Lozano, 17, of Rio Dell, sustained major injuries and were hospitalized, the CHP said. Greene was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of the collision is under investigation.

CHURCH GUILTY, MEEKS NOT: A jury found Robert Matthew Church, 38, of Miranda guilty of first-degree murder Friday in the killing of Zachary Stone, 31, of Redway, said Worth Dikeman of the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office. Church was also found guilty of personally and intentionally using a firearm in the commission of the offense and of lying in wait. The killing stemmed from a 2003 falling out between the two men, who were stepbrothers. Sentencing is scheduled for March 17. Meanwhile, a jury found Charles Meeks, 21, of Eureka not guilty Feb. 14 of three counts of vehicular manslaughter in the crash deaths of Kandie Marie Charest, 17, her sister Melinda Steele-Charest, 15, both of McKinleyville, and Alicia Silva, 16, of Trinidad, Dikeman said. The girls were riding in Meeks' car when it hydroplaned and ran off Highway 101 near Westhaven Drive in December 2003.

NEW BERG BILLS: Last week was a busy one for Assemblymember Patty Berg (D-Eureka). On Wednesday, she introduced a new bill designed to make it easier for local governments to operate needle-exchange programs to help curb the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases. The bill would eliminate the need for county boards of supervisors to declare a state of emergency every two weeks in order to operate such programs. The next day, Berg culminated several months of statewide hearings by introducing the "Compassionate Choices Act," which would give terminally ill Californians the right to end their own lives. Currently, only the state of Oregon has a "right to die" law. Berg said that while few used the law in Oregon, studies have shown that doctors are more willing to recommend palliative care and hospice services near the end of a patient's life. "We know that while a very small number of patients exercise this right, almost everyone is helped simply because it's an option," she said. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up the Bush administration's challenge to the Oregon law.

LOLETA TEACHER SENTENCED: Fortuna resident Ronald Vernon McCullough, 59, a former eighth-grade teacher in the Loleta School district, received a three-year felony probation sentence last week for soliciting a minor in an Internet chat room. McCullough had earlier pleaded guilty to the crime. Deputy District Attorney Andrew Isaac said Tuesday that in addition to the probation sentence, McCullough will be required to register as a sex offender. Isaac said he was pleased with the outcome. "Whatever his actions in this case, I don't think he's had so much as a traffic ticket up until now," Isaac said. The person McCullough had attempted to solicit was not, in fact, a 13-year-old Eureka girl, as he had thought, but a member of Perverted Justice, a volunteer organization that patrols the Internet in an attempt to find pedophiles and report them to the police.

WATER TOWER DELAY: Wondering why that new water tower in Eureka just can't seem to get painted? It's a long process, concedes Jeff Tedder of the Eureka Public Works Department, project engineer for the new tower. Workers are painstakingly blasting off all rust and other impurities, then priming and stripe-coating the seams. The $1.5 million tower will get an intermediate coat and then a final coat of paint by mid- to late April, Tedder said. "If you go to the lengths we're going to here, what we end up with is a coating system that'll last us 25 years instead of five," he said. One delay was caused last year when the first painting contractor was held up on other jobs by the hurricanes in Florida, Tedder said. The new 500,000-gallon water tower will provide water for 15,000 customers, or a little over half the population of Eureka, everyone south of Wabash, Tedder said. It will replace the old tower, which was built in 1950 and is not up to current seismic codes. Now for what you really want to know: the color of the new tower? Blue.

HOMELESS PROVIDERS GET BIG GRANT: The Humboldt County Housing and Homeless Coalition -- a consortium of local nonprofit groups dealing with homeless issues -- announced last week that it had secured a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Elizabeth Conner, executive director of the Humboldt Bay Housing Development Corp., said that the money would be split between Arcata House and the county's new Multiple Assistance Center. She added that she hoped the generous grant would be the first of many: "Now that we've gotten in their system, we're going to be putting in applications every year," she said.

WAKE UP AND SMELL THE MONEY: A coffee company conglomerate is giving money to nonprofits in Northern California. The Starbucks Grants for Giving Program is offering grants totaling $375,000 to nonprofits and charitable organizations from Santa Clara to Del Norte counties. Last year, Open Door Community Health Centers of Eureka was one of 12 organizations awarded money from Starbucks; it received a grant of $12,000 for a reading program for children. Visit or call (415) 241-0256 ext. 2223 for eligibility and application information.

No sanctions against DA in Palco case
Schectman appears as new deputy


The judge overseeing the district attorney's fraud lawsuit against the Pacific Lumber Co. threw out the company's motion for sanctions against the DA after hearing from attorneys on both sides last Wednesday.

The hearing marked the first time that retired Judge Richard Freeborn, formerly of the Lake County Superior Court, has appeared in the case. Judge Christopher Wilson voluntarily handed the case over to Freeborn in January, after a long legal struggle by Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen to disqualify him had failed.

Wednesday's pretrial hearing in the Humboldt County Courthouse dealt with the timber company's argument that Freeborn should dismiss the case, as the DA's allegations did not meet certain legal thresholds that would allow it to proceed.

Freeborn did not rule on the motion to dismiss -- known as a "demurrer" -- but instead took the matter into consideration. He is expected to enter a written ruling on the demurrer sometime in the next few weeks.

Attorney Steve Schectman also appeared for the first time in his role as a newly deputized volunteer member of the district attorney's staff. Schectman gained political prominence last year when he ran as a pro-DA candidate in the failed attempt to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos. Before the recall, he had filed several private lawsuits against Pacific Lumber.

Around 20 people attended the hearing Wednesday, most of them associated with the environmental movement. Forest activists Jeny Card (better known as "Remedy") and Kim Starr (who also goes by "Verbena") took up seats in the courtroom, as did Ken Miller of the Humboldt Watershed Council. Miller is listed as an official consultant to the DA in the fraud case, which alleges that the company intentionally deceived the California Department of Forestry and the public during the 1999 Headwaters Forest deal by hiding critical scientific research on the effect of timber operations on landslides.

After Freeborn opened the proceedings, Palco attorney Edgar Washburn told the court that he would argue that the DA's case was legally deficient in two ways. First, he said, the company was protected by the "Noerr-Pennington Doctrine," which holds certain types of communications with government to be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

Second, he argued that Section 47 of the California Civil Code gave additional protections from liability to statements made during the course of official government proceedings. Such protections had been fully tested in court, he said.

"I would say this -- the California Supreme Court has laid down ground rules from Section 47 that are broad and absolute," Washburn said.

When his turn came, Stoen argued that the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine applied only when people were engaged in "lobbying," or political activity -- not administrative proceedings with governmental agencies. In any case, Stoen said, there was an exception to the doctrine -- known as a "sham" exception, in which allegedly fraudulent activity interferes with an agency's ability to do its job -- and that the suit did meet the exception's requirements.

Likewise, Stoen argued that his case complied with an exception from the privileges of Civil Code Section 47 because the public had no opportunity to see the correct landslide information.

Schectman was given the task of arguing against the company's motion for sanctions, or financial penalties, against the DA's office for bringing the case.

In a long and sometimes impassioned argument, Schectman argued that California law clearly stated that district attorneys could not be held liable for filing a legal action, and held that the company's request for them amounted to "a furtherance of their tendency to rely on deceit and misinformation in pursuit of their goals."

Freeborn twice gently but firmly reminded Schectman that they were not there to argue the merits of the case, and asked him to return to the subject at hand.

But the judge eventually struck the company's request for sanctions without comment. He also denied another company motion to ban a jury from hearing the case, saying that he believed he could empanel an "advisory jury" to help him determine penalties in the case, if it gets that far.

At the end of the hearing, Washburn's co-counsel John Behnke asked Freeborn to clarify how and why Schectman -- whom, as Behnke noted, is a frequent opponent of the company -- came to appear as a official member of the district attorney's staff.

"I want it clear and on the record what the role of Mr. Schectman is here," Behnke said. "It may have bearing on how we proceed."

Freeborn's reply was curt. "No, it doesn't," he said simply, inspiring a smattering of laughter among courtroom observers.

From Humboldt to Hollywood
Local prof helped on production of Sideways


[Paul Giamatti, Tracy Boyd and Thomas Haden Church]Humboldt State film instructor Tracy Boyd predicted the attention that Sideways has received. Even when his mentor, director Alexander Payne, told him that mainstream success would elude such a "small film," Boyd -- who has worked with Payne on Sideways and About Schmidt -- believed.

"Maybe it's just because I'm more naïve than the people around me, but from the moment I read the script I knehw it would be big," Boyd said.

[Photo at right; Paul Giamatti, Tracy Boyd and Thomas Haden Church in Santa Barbara County, at the Cachuma Pass, on the last day of filming Sideways.]

He was right. The quirky, independent art film about dysfunctional male friends touring Santa Barbara's wine country garnered an avalanche of awards, including a Golden Globe and top honors from the Screen Actor's Guild, the Writer's Guild and Director's Guild. This week, Sideways heads to the terminally unrewarding Academy Awards with five nominations, including writing and directing nods to Payne -- the silver screen's reigning king of dark comedy. To Boyd's dismay, Paul Giamatti, who embodies Miles Raymond, a failed writer and divorcé with a penchant for pinot noir, was not nominated for lead actor.

"Giamatti was robbed," Boyd said. "He is the best actor I have ever seen; he never misses a beat."

Boyd is intimately in tune with every aspect of Sideways, from the plot, the lighting, locations, set design and editing, because he was what's known as a "factotum" for the movie. Generally, Boyd was a roaming conduit for Payne, helping the director unify the entire ensemble.

"When Alexander asked me what I wanted to do on this film, I said, `I'll do anything,'" Boyd recalled. "I think he appreciated that. So my job became creating a job for myself, to see what area needed help and going there."

While most of his work was behind the scenes, watch for the footage of animals, grapes, bees and bottles that were edited into a split screen montage. Those are the shots Boyd directed.

"I never thought any of it would be used in the film. It blew my mind," he said.

[Alexander Payne and Boyd sitting at table]Boyd, a burly, bearded 32-year-old with friendly brown eyes, said that his Midwestern sensibilities and interest in philosophy was the foundation of the fast friendship he and Payne formed in 2000. They met in Arcata, when Payne served as a judge for the 33rd Annual Humboldt International Short Film Festival. Boyd was pursuing a master's in film at HSU at the time, and was co-director of the film fest.

[Photo at left: Director Alexander Payne and Boyd deep in thought at the Los Olivos Winery.]

A year later, Payne asked Boyd to be his personal assistant on About Schmidt, an offbeat comedy starring Jack Nicholson as an unfulfilled, retired businessman. Boyd dropped everything to join the shoot -- opting to fail some of his classes.

The education he received outside of the classroom -- working beside Payne and even starring in a scene with Nicholson (which was later trimmed in editing) -- was an easy trade-off.

While Boyd admits that HSU's film department has troubles -- namely dwindling funds and staff, and a stalled graduate program that is not admitting new students -- he maintains his instruction at HSU prepared him for Hollywood.

"HSU will never be cutting edge -- a lot of high schools have more up-to-date equipment," he said. "But when I got to Hollywood I knew more than people who had been in the industry their whole lives. HSU teaches you how to make films without money. Making good films is not about having the right gear, it's about understanding characters."

Theater and film Professor Glen Nagy said that Boyd's transition from Humboldt to Hollywood was a natural progression.

"It doesn't surprise me at all how well he's done in Hollywood," Nagy said. "He has the right personality; he can see the big picture and instantly understand how he fits into the mix."

In 2003, Boyd completed his thesis film, That Art Thou -- an award-winner at the local film festival -- before graduating. That summer he left the North Coast again to reunite with Payne in Southern California to work on Sideways.

The result has been even better than he expected: Boyd was impressed with the mass appeal that the film was able to generate. It has reportedly raked in $54 million in ticket sales, and has been credited with sharply boosting sales of California's pinot noir.

"What made [Sideways] so well-liked is that it speaks to people who are generally ignored in film," Boyd said, alluding to the roles of Miles and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) who showcase the flawed, complicated, lost and somewhat neurotic adult in all of us.

"The beauty of Alexander's films is that they are not cartoons. There are no damsels in distress, no heroes. The characters are complex, everyday people with struggles," he said.

When the semester ends in May, Boyd will head back to L.A. to work with director Mike Cahill on King of California, a film Payne is producing.

Swapping the relaxed, small-town nature of Arcata that he has grown to love for the slick, superficial culture of Los Angeles is a sacrifice, Boyd said, but a necessary evil of pursuing a career in feature filmmaking.

"If you want to make cars you go to Detroit, if you want to make films you go to L.A.," Boyd said. "Otherwise, I'd love nothing better than to live in Humboldt permanently."

Further down the road, Boyd hopes to begin working on his own film, Bob Takes on the World, which he wrote over the span of three years with Andy Rydzewski, an HSU graduate.

"It's like a cross between Forrest Gump and Being There. It's centered around a town square, and how gentrification and strip malls threaten this town's way of life," he said.

Hey, Arcata has a town square

"My secret wish is to shoot the film here, but film people get afraid of this area because of the [rainy] weather," Boyd said.

"We'll see; it's still a few years down the road. I don't want to be so focused on succeeding that I miss what's happening now."



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