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The question is why?


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Edwards -- was served a subpoena by Pacific Lumber Co. to testify under oath and to turn over all our notes, tapes, unpublished photos and anything else in our files regarding the treesitters in Freshwater.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 date?

Why do I suspect Mitchell, Brisso, Delaney & Vrieze may be dragging their feet in the pepper spray case?

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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