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question is why?
by JUDY HODGSON
Last week this newspaper --
and one of our reporters, Andrew Edwards -- was served a subpoena
by Pacific Lumber Co. to testify under oath and to turn over
all our notes, tapes, unpublished photos and anything else in
our files regarding the treesitters in Freshwater. PL attorneys
are seeking any information that may enhance their case against
a group of treesitters and their supporters who trespassed and,
according to PL, harmed the company.
Why we are being subpoenaed
is an interesting question.
The subpoena is for a civil
case filed by Pacific Lumber, not the criminal trespass charges
being pursued by the county. The law is very clear: In civil
cases, where an individual (or in this case a corporation) is
suing another, a reporter's material is protected by the California
Shield Law. That can only mean that PL is either not well-informed
as to the law by their attorneys, or they are trying to harass
and intimidate this newspaper.
It's not just my paranoia that
tells me PL's motive is harassment.
Our story, "Out on a limb
-- Treesitting in Freshwater," was published March 6. Several
weeks later the Times-Standard did a similar story with
its reporter climbing a tree, visiting treesitters, trespassing
on property in the Mattole Valley. Then the Washington Post
sent a reporter who climbed a tree, visited treesitters, trespassed
in Freshwater. That story ran April 23. Neither of those newspapers
were served subpoenas. (A Washington Post editor told
us something to the effect that, "You've got to be kidding.
They wouldn't dare.")
So is it bad legal advice? Not
a chance. Pacific Lumber's attorneys -- Mitchell, Brisso, Delaney
& Vrieze of Eureka -- are quite well-versed in the Shield
Law. At least two of the firm's principals were trained as journalists.
The law firm may even have its
own motivations for encouraging this course of action against
us by Pacific Lumber. Mitchell, Brisso, Delaney & Vrieze
are also defending the county and the city of Eureka in the pepper
spray trial where protesters are claiming police used excessive
force. The Journal editorialized early on that former Sheriff
Dennis Lewis erred in his order to use the chemical in the manner
it was used. (Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein called it "unfortunate"
and "unnecessary.") We have repeatedly urged the county
to settle this case short of trial. But why should Mitchell,
Brisso, Delaney & Vrieze recommend settlement when the county
continues to pay their fees, which are approaching $500,000 to
Why do I suspect Mitchell, Brisso,
Delaney & Vrieze may be dragging their feet in the pepper
Because that's exactly what
they did for nearly two long years when this paper sued the county
for violating the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law, in
1997. Readers may recall that the Board of Supervisors had invited
a developer and a gravel operator into a closed personnel session
to give them "advice" on who they should hire as the
next planning director. Our case against the county was a slam
dunk -- we had one supervisor on tape admitting the presence
of the gravel operator -- yet Mitchell, Brisso, Delaney &
Vrieze kept advising their clients to fight every step of the
way instead of admitting their mistake and promising not to do
it again, which was what we were asking.
The judge eventually ruled the
supervisors had indeed violated the Brown Act, ordered them not
to do it again and to pay our attorney.
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