by EMILY GURNON
They all drive Japanese cars.
And there ends the resemblance among the three lawyers running as replacement candidates in the race to unseat District Attorney Paul Gallegos. As anyone who has been following it knows, the race has been a lively one, embodying the wide gulf in North Coast political forces and the ever-present tension - even outright hostility - between those who have lived here for decades and the more recently arrived, between those who yearn for the Humboldt County of old and those who are hastening its changes.
This week, the Journal takes a look at the three candidates vying for the position of DA should Gallegos be recalled: Worth Dikeman, Steve Schectman and Gloria Albin Sheets.
WORTH DIKEMAN: Veteran prosecutor
Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Worth Havens Dikeman Jr. holds an 8 1/2x11 notebook and stands slightly hunched over as he questions a witness in an attempted homicide case. His glasses, a cheap pair of reading lenses, hang low on his nose. He walks with a sort of confident lope and gives the impression of a reserved, patrician gentleman.
That's one Dikeman. The other is one who makes silly quips, admires singers like Bob Dylan and Randy Newman and brags that his wife, whom he calls "the redhead," used to sell dirty jokes to Playgirl magazine.
The 58-year-old prosecutor is an unlikely politician, and seems clearly uncomfortable with the role. He has said throughout that he is "not running against Paul [Gallegos]," but felt compelled to join the race. "I did not support the recall effort," Dikeman said from the dining room of his alder and redwood-shrouded Arcata home. "I did not gather signatures, pass out literature. But the recall is a given. When Mr. Schectman put his hat in the ring, that changed everything," he said. Schectman, a longtime civil attorney, has no experience being a prosecutor. "I consider Mr. Schectman to be unacceptable."
If no one had run for the seat, Dikeman says, the Board of Supervisors would have appointed someone, and it would very likely have been him. (Dikeman is listed on the county's emergency preparedness plan as the person who would step into the DA's position if the district attorney were not able to perform his duties.)
"I was reluctant to get involved in the political process," he says. "I am not reluctant to be the DA."
Indeed, Dikeman has appeared less reluctant as the campaign has progressed. In media forums and advertisements, he has said that "a large part of our community no longer trusts the incumbent to do the job he was elected to do," and "I want to be your District Attorney." He says he is "loyal" to Paul Gallegos, yet loyalty would not preclude him from praising his boss, which he has declined to do.
But does he really want the job or not? Will he vote yes or no on the recall? And is the recall just?
In December, Dikeman told the Journal that he would personally vote against the recall (though he now says he has no recollection of having said that). Since then, he has steadfastly refused to answer that question, saying he'll state his position on the recall on Election Day. He says recalls are part of the democratic process. And he has refused to say much about Pacific Lumber's financial involvement in the recall movement, except that it seems "troublesome."
That stance has infuriated Gallegos' supporters, including Schectman, who has repeatedly pressed Dikeman on it in their public appearances. Dikeman won't budge, and his coyness comes off sounding, at times, passive-aggressive. He clearly doesn't like being challenged, having his answers dissected. He wants to be taken at face value.
The prosecutor said he has not been particularly surprised at how the campaign has gone, however. "I anticipated there would be what I call some eye-gouging. I just didn't think it would start so soon."
Dikeman has gotten in some jabs of his own, mostly at Schectman. He has criticized the civil attorney for listing his occupation on the ballot as "prosecuting attorney," remarking that Schectman "ain't done it yet."
Dikeman grew up in Berkeley, where he attended Berkeley High, and served as a medic in the Army before spending a year as an infantry officer in Vietnam, from 1969 to 1970, where he attained the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He says he took the Vietnam assignment for one reason: to make his father, a World War II veteran, proud.
He earned his bachelor's degree in history from Chico State in 1973. It was there that he met Geri Anne Johnson, who would in 1980 become his second wife. (He separated from his first wife, a "flower child," after a year of law school. They had a daughter who now lives with Dikeman's mother in the Bay Area.) After his graduation from UC Hastings in San Francisco, Dikeman was admitted to the bar in 1976.
Twenty-seven years later, it seems strange that this consummate prosecutor wanted to become a defense attorney when he first got out of law school. "I was of the impression at that point in time that I could make a greater impact on society," he said. There were openings with the Contra Costa Public Defender's Office and the District Attorney's Office; he had two interviews on the same day. The public defender "didn't think much of my interview"; the DA offered him a job. His fate was sealed.
He began his career in Richmond, in Contra Costa County -- where he lost his first seven trials, all drunk driving cases. Fortunately, things started looking up. "We didn't have a lot of training, and as a result, they gave you your penal code, pointed you in the direction of the courtroom and said, `Let us know how it goes.' Things did get better. I got better."
In 1985, Dikeman and his wife decided to move their family to Humboldt County. "Both of us were interested in going somewhere that wasn't paved," he said. The fact that it was a college town appealed to them, too. "We've never regretted that decision." He got a job working for former DA Terry Farmer.
"Terry Farmer brought me up here, and I think he did a very good job as DA," he says of his former boss.
Dikeman's current assignments include all the marijuana-related felonies and three homicide cases. His resume includes two death penalty cases, involving Curtis Floyd Price and Jackie Ray Hovarter. He also has taught criminal law at College of the Redwoods.
Since joining the race, Dikeman has scored endorsements from a range of law enforcement groups, including the Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs Organization, the Eureka Police Officers Association, the Fortuna Police Employees Association and the Arcata Police Association. He won the Prosecutor of the Year award in 1993 from the California District Attorney's Association, and he is reportedly one of the most respected prosecutors in the office.
According to the most recent campaign finance statement, Dikeman has raised a little over $50,000 this year, including $23,000 in loans from himself, $7,800 in nonmonetary contributions and $19,000 in cash. His contributors include the Eureka Police Officers Association ($3,000), the Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs Organization ($495) and a number of local attorneys and law enforement personnel. Robin Arkley Sr. chipped in $500.
Suzie Owsley has worked with Dikeman through her 12 years with the Eureka Police Department. She said she rarely supports political candidates, but is spending some of her own personal time campaigning for Dikeman. Speaking as a private citizen, she said Dikeman is known in the DA's office for being the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave at night. "I'm supporting Worth because I think he is someone we can all look up to. He is a seasoned professional, he covers all his bases, he reads the whole crime report and he works hard for the victims. Most important, he remembers the victims. I just think he's a real gem."
Dikeman's closeness with law enforcement is likely to take him far in terms of votes from the more traditional factions of the county. On the other hand, it may not sit well with the region's more progressive wing.
Barbara Hitchko, 59, said she had personal experience with Dikeman's tough stance on marijuana when a family member was prosecuted by him. The Eureka teacher and Green Party member said she would not be voting for him -- or any of the replacement candidates.
"I think he's good-ol'-boy Humboldt County," Hitchko said.
STEVE SCHECTMAN: Proud rebel
Steve Schectman knew from early on that he wanted to be what one of his mentors called an "Oh, shit" lawyer -- one who, when his opposition knew he was on a case, would say, "Oh, shit! Not that guy!"
One wonders if it wasn't partly the "oh shit" factor that led Schectman to join the district attorney race. He seems to delight in the idea of being the outsider, the troublemaker, the smart, mad-dog attorney who stirs things up and fights the system -- always in the cause of justice, he says. Indeed, the deputy district attorneys, the men and women who now work under Gallegos, were said to be roundly horrified at the prospect of working for Schectman, a civil litigator with no prosecutorial experience. "I don't believe he has any interest in the criminal aspects of the office," said Deputy District Attorney Maggie Fleming, who's worked there 10 years. "He speaks only as to one lawsuit and has had no practically experience as to criminal cases. I don't think he's ever expressed an interest in what the office does except for that one lawsuit."
Pacific Lumber might have a similar reaction, Schectman speculated. In the unlikely event that no one else ran for the seat, "Pacific Lumber would have to oppose the recall!" he says, laughing at the delicious prospect.
Of course, Pacific Lumber, one of Humboldt County's largest private employers, is the No. 1 reason why he entered the race, he says. "This recall is bad. It's bad because it's being funded and motivated almost exclusively by one source. That's Pacific Lumber Co."
Schectman, like many of Gallegos' supporters, says the company is backing the recall of Gallegos -- to the tune of more than $225,000 as of early this week -- because the DA filed the now-infamous multimillion fraud suit against it shortly after taking office last year. "Rather than have their day in court," Schectman alleges, "they have decided to buy an election." The 51-year-old civil attorney has pushed that message consistently through the media and in candidate forums. "You've got one corporation running the show here, obviously behind the recall, and saying, `Don't pay attention to that man behind the curtain!'"
For him and Humboldt County's large progressive bloc, the allegations from the pro-recall faction that Gallegos is "soft on crime" just do not wash. "It's interesting that a defendant in a case pending in the District Attorney's Office is asserting that he's soft on crime," Schectman says, returning again to PL. Law enforcement is jumping on the bandwagon because of their own personal views, he says: They simply do not like Gallegos. He came into office last year as an outsider, a defense attorney, the guy they had faced across the courtroom, the guy who defended the "sleazebags." Humboldt County's physical and economic isolation has made the cops a powerful force, he says. "We're like an island nation. It's been a good-ol'-boy club here for a long time."
Schectman has prided himself on never being one of the "good ol' boys."
On a recent afternoon, Schectman, dressed in blue jeans and a black sweater, relaxed on the deck of his Sunny Brae home and talked about his history of being the scrappy outsider. Born in Chicago, Schectman was raised in the Albany Park area, a neighborhood of Jews and Puerto Ricans. With immigrant grandparents, he grew up hearing both Yiddish and English at home, though his parents wanted Schectman and his sister to learn only English. He attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, "to try to play football," but lasted on the team just half a season. A highly conservative private school, Drake was a strange place for this self-described radical. But Schectman seems unfazed by being an oddball, a minority.
After graduating from Drake, he traveled throughout South America for a year, then hooked up with Tom Hayden's 1975 campaign for U.S. Senate. (Hayden lost in the primary, but later became a state Assembly and Senate member from Santa Monica.) As part of the job, he wrote a portion of Hayden's campaign platform, attended meetings at the home of Hayden and his then-wife, actress Jane Fonda, and "drove Jane around a lot."
He toyed with journalism as a career, then decided to go to law school. But he resisted doing it the "establishment" way. Instead, he attended the then-unaccredited New College of California School of Law in San Francisco for a year, then apprenticed with Berkeley attorney Len Holt, a black civil rights lawyer. He was admitted to the California Bar in 1981.
Schectman and some fellow attorneys opened what they called the West Bay Law Collective in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District, and dove into the wide-open field of eviction defense, charging clients as little as $5 or $10 per hour. "We saw how most tenants were getting evicted without ever getting to court," he says. He soon began winning unheard-of judgments: $30,000 in one case, then $150,000, then $4.3 million in a case involving the attempted illegal conversion of a San Francisco residential hotel to tourist use.
"Steve is a wonderful, wonderful attorney," said his former San Francisco law partner, Frances Pinnock. "He really put tenants law on the map in San Francisco. When I first met him, his small law collective -- they were like the real radicals. They were the first people who were really fighting, and they were making no money. It was Steve's inspiration and brilliance that started it. He's a visionary."
Schectman's last big case in San Francisco was also the one that indirectly led him to Humboldt County. He represented eight secretaries in a sex and age discrimination case against the venerable law firm of Pillsbury Madison and Sutro (now Pillsbury Winthrop LLP), which was settled in 1997 for an undisclosed amount that attorneys said was in the millions.
When Schectman later heard that the same firm was representing Pacific Lumber in the case of the marbled murrelet, he called the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville, saying, you need some office space, some phones? Use my San Francisco office.
That led, in 1998, to his move to Humboldt County. Schectman and his wife, dancer Lizbeth Fuentes Rosner, were caught in the city's housing crunch, and San Francisco life held less allure for the couple, whose children were then 5 and 2. "It wasn't fun going to restaurants anymore," he quipped.
More important, he wanted to fight Pacific Lumber against his adversary, Pillsbury Madison and Sutro. "It was THE reason why we came," he says. "I wanted to bring what I felt was my unique litigation experiences to the issues here."
He worked with Eureka attorney Bill Bertain on the Stafford landslide case, which resulted in a $3.2 million settlement in favor of property owners who had sued Pacific Lumber. Schectman also won a settlement in the case of David "Gypsy" Chain, the protester who was killed when a tree cut by a logger fell on him in 1998. The logger had shouted obscenities and threats at the protesters in a confrontation about an hour before Chain's death.
Now, Schectman says he does mainly labor law, and currently has no major cases.
His motivation for fighting the recall? He had the time and the background on PL, he said. And he has the passion. "I was outraged that they would do something as bold as this," to fund a recall campaign.
Though he has been one of Gallegos' most vocal supporters, Schectman says that he and the DA are not pals. "I don't really know him," he says. "I've met him a couple times."
GLORIA ALBIN SHEETS: Fiery 'Humboldt girl'
When she graduated from law school in 1994, Gloria Sheets had no idea what kind of law she wanted to practice. She had already spent 20 years working as a receptionist, bookkeeper and paralegal in law offices, and thought she would do civil law. Then a friend who was a public defender invited her to sit in on a trial he was conducting. "Maybe you'll get the bug," he told her.
Sheets spent a week listening in on the case, which involved a young girl who was the victim of a violent crime -- a case very similar to one she herself had been involved in as a teenager. (She prefers to keep the details private.) She identified with the victim, and felt as if the world were giving her an irrefutable message. "I totally got the bug," she said, but she didn't want to be a defense attorney like her friend. "It was like -- whoa! -- I want to be a prosecutor."
This self-described "Humboldt girl" has been an outspoken opponent of Paul Gallegos throughout the final weeks of the recall campaign. A registered Republican and former deputy district attorney under Farmer and Gallegos, Sheets has minced no words about the current DA, calling him everything from incompetent to dishonest to "ridiculously lenient" on criminals. She has exhorted voters to "look at the files and look at the cases that have been handled."
The political polar opposite of Schectman, Sheets says the recall has nothing to do with Pacific Lumber and everything to do with crime.
"This is about lack of experience of a prosecutor handling cases that the DA is not equipped to handle," she says.
Like the other replacement candidates, Sheets has no political experience, and says she is running now to challenge Gallegos' record and make Humboldt County a safer place.
"This election is about little girls being raped forcibly and the perpetrator being allowed to get out in about 13 1/2 years," she says, referring to the case of Pedro Martinez-Hernandez, the Ferndale molester who has become the poster child for Gallegos' alleged ineptitude. "Gallegos is supposed to be your DA. He's not supposed to still be a defense attorney."
Born in Tacoma, Wash., Sheets, 58, grew up in Blue Lake, where her brother, Tom Sheets, later served as mayor. She still has many relatives in the area and describes her family as "very tight." Her father, a logger for Walker Brothers Logging, was killed by a felled tree in Redwood Valley, when she was 21. "It was devastating to my family," she says.
Life was hard early on for Sheets, who married young and had her first child, a son, at 18. A girl came four years later, and her husband left when their son was 10. Forced to find a job, she began working in the first of several law offices.
When she was 44, Sheets decided to go to law school at Empire College School of Law in Santa Rosa. Already a grandmother, she was undeterred by the idea of starting a challenging career relatively late. "I thought, in four years, I'll either have a law degree or I won't," she says. "I'll be 48 either way." Upon graduation, she returned to Humboldt County, where she married Chet Albin, a retired insurance broker in Eureka. They are now divorced. (She declines to say how many times she has been wed.)
Despite her accomplishments, Sheets is no feminist. "With women's lib, all we did was liberate ourselves into work," she says. She blames today's crime on absent parents. "Nobody's raising their kids."
Sheets was hired in 1994 to be one of then-DA Terry Farmer's deputy district attorneys. She has praised her former colleagues for their talent and professionalism, though the admiration has not always been returned. Some in the office have said that Sheets was not in the top tier of deputies, and last May, Gallegos terminated her position.
The county's personnel office says that her job was cut due to budget constraints and the loss of a grant. Sheets maintains that the termination came on the same day she filed a workers' compensation claim for a back condition. She subsequently filed two administrative complaints with state agencies regarding her dismissal, which are still pending. She rejects the possibility that her attacks on Gallegos are fueled by her personal history with him.
Since leaving the job, she has refurbished the modest home she bought off Old Arcata Road, and does not need to work, she says. "I own my house, I own my car. I've got some resources." She still struggles with her back problems, she says. "I have to ice it, I have to take some medications. Be gentle with myself."
Along with campaigning, which has consumed her life since December, Sheets says she often does pro bono work for friends of friends -- mostly giving advice about how the legal system works. "Attorneys almost act like a barrier to the legal system. People are so intimidated by the legal system. Nobody tells them [how it works]. It's like this big secret. So I enjoy trying to bridge that gap. That's one of the things I've been talking about in my campaign. I will pick up the phone and talk to people."
Late last week, Sheets showed a visitor around her home, which doubles as her campaign headquarters and contains her lamp collection and evidence of her main hobby: pieces of furniture she's refinished with patterns of ceramic tiles. She would never tile a brand-new table, she says. "I like to take broken things or old things and refurbish them or repair them and make them new and beautiful." Her assistant, Rachel Wilson, sat at a table, carefully assembling financial information. The two met at the Faith Center church in Eureka, where Sheets attends services and leads a group called "Celebrate Recovery."
On Monday, she was feeling discouraged about the race. She had missed a scheduled appearance at a spaghetti feed in Orick because of car problems, and was not able to contact the organizer. She was disgusted about reports that her signs in Willow Creek were removed and replaced with Gallegos signs. And she said she was tired of the "lies" swirling around, such as her alleged ties to Pacific Lumber.
If she has been bought by the company, she says, "the check must have gotten lost in the mail because I haven't seen nickel one."
Former Pacific Lumber CEO John Campbell did purchase $100 worth of raffle tickets for her fund-raiser, Sheets said, but her campaign finance statements show no other contributions from the company. She has raised just over $23,000 since Jan. 1 -- $18,000 of which consisted of loans from herself. Her largest contribution from an individual was $500.
Despite the setbacks, Sheets says she's "something of an idealist." Her father used to say, What makes you think life is fair? "I'm still looking for fairness," she says.
Wives and colleagues
by EMILY GURNON and KEITH EASTHOUSE
Paul Gallegos and Worth Dikeman have at least one thing in common: They're both married to lawyers. What follows are quick looks at the women, and professionals, behind these two very public figures.
Geri Anne Johnson leaned forward at her desk in the well-appointed offices of the Harland Law Firm in Eureka, where she is a partner. An animated woman with long, strawberry blond hair and an easy laugh, she talked about her reaction to being the wife of a suddenly famous person -- DA recall candidate Worth Dikeman. "Do you know how weird it is to see your husband's name on a bumper?" she said.
Johnson said she does not exactly relish being thrust into the public eye since Dikeman announced his candidacy. She knew it might happen, she said, when she noted her husband's reaction to the announcement by Steve Schectman that he would run. "Worth was very upset. Very upset," Johnson, 51, said. "Everyone there was. He kept saying, `Someone's got to do something about this!'" No one in the DA's office wanted to have a civil litigator, with no experience as a prosecutor, as their boss.
Still, Johnson said she was "shocked, astonished" when Dikeman told her he wanted to join the race. He called her just after talking to Gallegos about it, and she understands his decision, she said. But Dikeman had never before expressed any desire to run for public office, never had political aspirations.
The couple's daughter, 23-year-old Bonny Johnson, an HSU journalism major, sometimes accompanies her father to campaign events. Their son, Adam Dikeman, a CR student, tends to resist the limelight -- like she does, Johnson said.
"It's like being in a cartoon when you don't want to be," she said, laughing. "Author -- write me out!"
There's an affectionate family joke about Dikeman, Johnson said, that he's a "one-trick pony," like the one described in the Paul Simon song. He's a one-trick pony He makes it look so easy, he looks so clean, he moves like God's immaculate machine. He makes me think about all of these extra movements I make and all this herky-jerky motion and the bag of tricks it takes to get me through my working day. Dikeman is a prosecutor, Johnson said. It's his life. Along with a little reading and gardening, it's all he does. And next to being at home, a courtroom is his most comfortable space, she said.
What happens if her husband is driven from the District Attorney's Office? Joan Gallegos didn't hesitate.
"We'll still be here. We'll be fine, regardless. The question is whether this community will be fine."
Gallegos, talking recently to a reporter at a downtown restaurant, paused as if to order her thoughts.
"We're at such a crossroads as to where this community wants to head," she said. "This is a huge litmus test. Either we'll remain tied up in medieval times, with the old boy network, backroom deals and justice for the privileged few that have access to the [DA's] office. Or we'll have equal enforcement of the laws and an independent [top] prosecutor."
Many have spoken of the chilling effect on future Humboldt County DAs if the recall is successful. But Gallegos emphasized the chilling effect on another group: judges. "If the recall goes through, they'll know that if they rule against a corporation, they can count on having a heavily funded opponent in the next election."
A sandy-haired woman with a relaxed air, Gallegos, who is 38, met her husband when the two were law students at the University of Laverne in Los Angeles. "It was like love at first sight, at least for me," Gallegos recalled, saying that the two met at a gathering of law students at a pizza and beer joint.
After practicing law for a while in southern California, and wearying of spending most of their time either in court or in their cars going to and from court, the two, a married couple now, moved to Humboldt after falling in love with the area during a weekend getaway.
Arriving on New Year's Eve 1993, they spent a couple of years living in a rental in Old Town before buying the Cutten home they live in today. Along the way they had three children, two boys and a girl. Oh, and they ran a successful law practice, with her husband doing mostly criminal defense work while she did what she continues to do today -- family law.
She joked that she gets more death threats through her work than through her husband's. But she turned serious when asked about the recent break-ins at the home in Cutten.
"I am pissed. Can I say it was Palco? No. But I find the timing very suspicious."
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.