May 25, 2006
story and photos by HANK SIMS
IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE who cares deeply about the race for Humboldt County district attorney (and it would be shocking if you didn't) you know one thing: The other guy and all his people are lowdown disreputable types who should be run out immediately. Different people pick a different villain, but the rhetoric is much the same on either side. In today's political climate, there's precious little room for middle ground, or even for reasoned debate.
In most areas, the question of who leads the band of attorneys that prosecutes crime on behalf of the public does not lead to blood feuds. People elsewhere may pause slightly longer over their sample ballots when choosing a DA than they do when choosing a county clerk-recorder, but not much longer. Here it's different — less like a meeting of the Kiwanis, more like a battle to the death. Why? Whether you credit him or blame him, it's because of Paul Gallegos.
Gallegos, a former defense attorney, took over as DA in 2003, after having beaten 20-year incumbent Terry Farmer the year previous. He promptly filed a massive lawsuit against the Pacific Lumber Company that had been brought to him by the Humboldt Watershed Council, an environmental group. The lawsuit alleged that the company had committed fraud during the lead-up to a public buyout of the Headwaters Forest, obtaining though deceit the right to log much more on its remaining lands than it otherwise would have. Timber supporters instantly announced their intent to recall Gallegos from office; Pacific Lumber itself eventually backed the effort to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. In March of 2004, after a bitter campaign, Gallegos beat back the recall handily, getting a 61 percent "No" vote.
Since then, Gallegos has become a powerful symbol for Humboldt County residents of all sorts — forest activists, '70s-era "New Settlers," marijuana decriminalization advocates, recent refugees from suburban America — who have long felt powerless, at least outside the Arcata city limits. Gallegos' defeat of the recall seemed to many to signify that their moment had arrived, that Humboldt County had finally turned a corner. The timber companies, the gravel miners, the ranchers and the rest of the good old boys that had run the county for 150 years were no longer in the driver's seat.
Worth Dikeman (left).
Just a few years earlier, sworn law enforcement officers had swabbed pepper spray directly into the eyes of young, non-violent timber activists, causing them to writhe in pain. The footage hit the evening news, making Humboldt County a sick joke in the national press. With the coming of the new progressive majority, as evidenced by Gallegos recall's wide margin of defeat, that sort of thing wouldn't happen any longer, it was thought. The county's politics and government — especially its law enforcement apparatus — would reflect the forward-looking culture that had been brewing here since the hippie days. We would be able to join the 21st century.
There's no doubt that much of the feverish support Gallegos inspires today stems directly from the fact that he stood down Pacific Lumber at the ballot box. (He hasn't fared so well in court: The office's suit against the company was thrown out last year before making it to trial, with the DA office's chosen judge in the matter deciding that it betrayed a misunderstanding of the law. Gallegos notified the appellate courts of his intent to appeal the decision shortly afterwards, but as yet no briefs have been submitted.) He also devised liberal guidelines for the use and cultivation of marijuana by people who obtain a medical prescription for it, guidelines later officially adopted by the county Board of Supervisors. And in the wake of last month's police shooting of Eureka resident Cheri Moore, and of the California Highway Patrol's recent heavy-handed responses to two peace marches down Highway 101 earlier this year, many are encouraged by Gallegos' touting of his "independence" from the police, who overwhelmingly support his opponent, veteran prosecutor Worth Dikeman, who has worked in the office over 20 years.
But in this, as in all things to do with the district attorney race — which will be decided a week and a half from now, on Tuesday, June 6 — the most vocal representatives of the Gallegos camp aren't so much arguing with Dikemanites about this as they are talking past them. Gallegos supporters speak of equal justice, civil rights, of first principals handed down to us by the Founding Fathers. Dikeman supporters, meanwhile, want to see someone more interested in just doing the damned job, in all its mundane particulars.
Right: Paul Gallegos
In 2005, after a year-long investigation, the Humboldt County Grand Jury released a scathing indictment of Gallegos' management of the district attorney's office. "Implicit in all evidence gathered by the Grand Jury — including interviews with the DA — is the unfortunate truth that the DA exhibits a limited understanding of how things are done in the department," it read. "The district attorney has failed to educate himself thoroughly in office operations and procedures ... he does not meet regularly with the supervisors who oversee his staff; he does not meet regularly with deputy district attorneys; he does not meet regularly with law enforcement agencies ... he has no written training documents for new hires."
The district attorney is in the first place an administrator, responsible for managing the work of prosecutors, investigators and support staff. In the past four years, members of the office have been unwilling to speak to the press or the public — partly, they say, out of a sense of professional conduct and partly out of fear of reprisal. In recent weeks, though, several staff members have come forward on the condition that their names not be used. (The Journal agreed to the condition.) The picture they paint, uniformly, echoes the Grand Jury report in every particular: ineffectual leadership, Gallegos' absence from the day-to-day work of the office and a chaotic workplace in which good case preparation — the bread-and-butter of legal work — is made impossible.
"Paul is a nice person," said one. "He's pleasant to be around during the day. But he's not a district attorney." Said another: "He's got good ideas, but no follow-through."
In particular, the members of the office interviewed fault a laissez-faire management style for the exodus of experienced attorneys from the office, a phenomenon also noted by the Grand Jury. When Gallegos first took office in January 2003, he released two attorneys — Harry Kassakhian and Gloria Albin Sheets — and hired Mendocino County prosecutor Tim Stoen as Assistant District Attorney. But Stoen spent almost all his energies on the Pacific Lumber case, leaving the rest of the office to absorb the day-to-day caseload. Meanwhile, as other prosecutors began to leave, their positions were filled with green attorneys straight out of law school, and according to members of the office interviewed, those new attorneys were given very little in the way of guidance or on-the-job training. Many of them have also moved on, and recruiting for their replacements has been slow. At least two open prosecutor positions are currently unfilled.
What happens, according to the first staff member quoted above, is that long-term members of the clerical staff end up guiding the new recruits in their transformation from law-school students to prosecutors.
"Clerical is not supposed to train the attorneys, but that's what happens," the staff member said. "The vets, they're in the courtrooms — they're busy up to here."
Underlying the poor organization and management of the office, they say, is the feeling of job insecurity felt by the deputy prosecutors. Gallegos, in his initial run for the office, had pledged to institute civil service protections for deputy prosecutors, so that they could not be fired unless the boss could show good cause. He abandoned that pledge shortly after taking office. Now, according to staff members interviewed, deputies feel they have to keep their mouth shut and their heads down if they want to keep their jobs — no protests about working conditions, or about the priorities of the office (which one staff member described as "Just get something" — just get some sort of penalty in plea-bargain arrangements, so long as it goes down as a win).
Another staff member interviewed said that the patience and good will of the office as a whole was just about worn out.
"We're still giving him everything we can, but it doesn't feel like a two-way street," the staff member said. All staff members interviewed were certain that despite Gallegos' statements to the contrary, the overwhelming majority of the office — from the lowest file clerk all the way on up — supported Dikeman.
Despite his ire at the futility of Gallegos' Pacific Lumber case, and despite his view that his current boss is beholden to his political supporters far more than the people of the state of California, the dissolution of the office, as laid out by the staff members above, seems to be the thing that most irks Worth Dikeman.
Dikeman is almost frustratingly calm and patient in his answers to questions. People who know him testify that he is the warmest of human beings, but in conversation with strangers he seems loath to let much of his personality slip out. Sixty years old, possessing a bright bald gray-fringed dome and an unfashionable mustache, Dikeman exudes natural reserve. He's not cold, he's just inhumanely polite.
He first entered politics during the recall attempt against Gallegos, as a potential "replacement candidate" if the recall were successful. He did so after Steven Schectman, an Arcata defense attorney and Gallegos ally, threw his own hat into the ring, as a "safety" candidate in case the recall were to succeed. A little over a year after the recall failed, Dikeman announced that he would seek to replace Gallegos in the upcoming election. But he denies the story current among Gallegos supporters, that he and the office veterans had it out for Gallegos from the start.
"He deserved our loyalty," he said. "He deserved the opportunity to grow into the position. I think everyone was prepared to give him a fair shot. But he's not done a good job. He's done a poor job."
Dikeman says that what convinced him that he had to run — "or that someone had to run, would be a better way of putting it" — was Gallegos' firing of Deputy District Attorney Allison Jackson, a 10-year veteran prosecutor, in 2004 (see "Forged documents and six pounds of weed," May 18). To Dikeman's way of thinking, it was unforgivable to summarily dismiss an experienced and dedicated prosecutor who'd never had a blot on her personnel record. And what her firing did to the office was just as bad, in its way, he said.
Jackson was one of the two attorneys who worked with the Child Abuse Services Team, a highly lauded program that uses a number of resources — attorneys, investigators, social workers — to investigate and prosecute cases of molestation. Her loss was symptomatic of Gallegos' neglect of CAST, Dikeman said. Previously, the office had two prosecutors who regularly worked with the program; now there is only one — Maggie Fleming. Everyone agrees that Fleming is highly capable, but she is a part-time employee and CAST is but one of her many duties. Dikeman said that restoring CAST to its previous level would be his first priority. He said he would reassign current Deputy DA Andrew Isaac — who, along with Jackson, used to work CAST for many years — to the child abuse beat.
In general, he said, he would seek to restore order and confidence to the running of the office. He would bring back "vertical prosecution," in which the same prosecutor follows a case from its conception to its end. And he would do two things to assure that the office could keep and recruit people: He would establish the civil service protections that Gallegos once promised, and he would build a sensible mentoring system to help young attorneys grow into their jobs. As it stands, he said, the young attorneys in the office are too often left helpless.
As an example, he cited the way petty theft crimes end up being prosecuted in the office. Petty theft is no one's idea of a top priority in an office that prosecutes some 7,000 cases a year, he said, so it makes sense to get plea bargains from defendants in order to save time and money. But there is a catch: In agreeing to a plea bargain, a prosecutor is wise to get at least some jail time as part of the sentence on paper. (In practice, the amount of time can be waived in exchange for time served at the defendants arrest). Unless jail time is part of the sentence, a prosecutor cannot seek increased punishment in the case of repeat offenders. Young attorneys are unaware of this loophole, he said, and these days they don't often seek it.
Dikeman says that in this and other instances, he's not accusing Gallegos of purposefully making it easy on criminals.
"I'm not Oliver Stone, so I don't see conspiracies everywhere," he said. "I think it's poor support that's allowed these things to occur."
For Gallegos, his reelection fight against Dikeman has been merely a replay of the recall. The lack of Pacific Lumber money — and the rapidly declining power of Pacific Lumber in the county — makes no real difference.
"This is the same battle," he says. "And these same people are trying to mislead the people, again. And I stress, again."
Gallegos, 44, is handsome, well-dressed and well-spoken. Unlike his opponent, he is not a man of few words — though he is famous for the long, awkward pauses that sometimes punctuate his conversations, he nearly always emerges from them with a decently formed sentence. He is relentlessly, aggressively on-message, and will find a way to tell you what he thinks you should hear without discarding entirely the point of your question.
The "misleading" he refers to is the charge that he has weakened the CAST program through neglect. During the recall, he was heavily criticized for getting only a 16-year sentence for a suspect that had serially abused his daughter, when he could conceivably have gone for a much larger sentence. Gallegos thinks that in both cases, the charges against him are underhanded and insulting — why would he do anything to weaken the prosecution of child abuse in the county, he asks? He himself is a parent of three, he says, and besides, it would be politically suicidal to go easy on child molesters. His devotion to CAST was apparent, he said, as he had assigned Fleming — possibly his best attorney — to it.
As far as Dikeman's example concerning the prosecution of petty theft cases is concerned, Gallegos said he had never heard about such a thing happening in the office. He hadn't known that the law was structured like that. But he said that if such a problem did exist, it would be something that he would be able to remedy very easily.
"That's one great thing about the way our office is structured — we can effect change relatively fast," he said. "It's a really responsive setup. If there's a problem I can take it to our people and say 'This is what's going on, this is where we're screwing up, let's fix it.' This is the first I've heard of it, but if it's true, it's totally fixable."
Gallegos argues that this de-centered approach to management — "a 21st century approach," as he called it during one of his debates with Dikeman — is ideally oriented toward on office of professionals, in which no one should expect to have their hand held every step of the way. Young attorneys should grow into their jobs, to make their own way and learn to use their own judgment in cases.
Gallegos' main plank in this campaign is that since he has been in office, violent crime has fallen to record lows. (The low occurred in 2003, the first year Gallegos took office. In 2004, the last year for which the California Department of Justice has figures, it rose slightly.) Why would the community want to change horses in the face of such record achievement, he wonders? Why give in to the scare tactics used by the other side?
"This community is not in danger — far from it," he says. "They're saying the streets aren't safe? They haven't been safer in 15 years."
And though that's the main thing Gallegos wants voters to hear this time around, he also wants them to remember the man they supported in such overwhelming numbers during the recall. He wants them to think of the man who had the guts to take on Pacific Lumber.
"The world's changed," Gallegos says. "Certainly, it means the district attorney's office is an independent office. It acts independently, it is independent and it represents the people of this community. Not certain sections of this community, not just individuals in this community, but the community as a whole."
story and photos by HELEN SANDERSON
Listening to Fortuna attorney Robert Zigler speak to a crowd of mostly white-haired women at the Red Lion Inn in Eureka last Friday, it was clear that the debate over the passage of Measure T was getting ugly.
Zigler seemed genuinely flabbergasted as he told the Eureka Republican Women at the luncheon to "be afraid" of Measure T, the ballot initiative that seeks to ban outside corporate spending — read: Wal-Mart, Maxxam — in Humboldt County elections. From his point of view, Measure T restricts a corporation's constitutional right to free speech and therefore would never survive a costly legal challenge.
To anyone who has been paying attention to the ongoing debate over Measure T, Zigler's protestations were nothing new. Even the same lingo — "power grab," "disenfranchise," "personal agenda" — popped up repeatedly. What's changed is that what started as a nonpartisan duel has steadily become just that: right versus left, conservative versus progressive, old guard versus new. Add Humboldt's pre-eminent Republican millionaire philanthropist to the mix and the division seems to get wider, prompting warring politicos to take the gloves off.
"It's fascist," Zigler said. "I totally agree with Rob Arkley" (the owner of Eureka-based Security National and the Eureka Reporter). Arkley was not at the luncheon, but in publicized letters to local elected officials he urged the county to strike down Measure T or risk facing a costly lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.
Right: "NOT" Website urges a no vote.
Zigler went on to paint Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County — the parent of the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights, which authored the ordinance — as a group of left-wing radicals not even originally from Humboldt County, with a single-minded goal of subverting corporate personhood. He quoted heavily from the group's website, as well as 28-year-old DUHC member Ryan Emenaker's "MySpaces" (sic) account, and spared no harsh words for Measure T's 26-year-old Campaign Manager, Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap.
"Know your enemy," he urged the 40 or so Republican women. "Know who's on the other side of you."
BACK UP OFF US. The impetus for Measure T — aka "The Ordinance to Protect Our Rights to Fair Elections and Local Democracy" — was born of the failed recall attempt of District Attorney Paul Gallegos in 2003-04.
In response to a fraud lawsuit Gallegos filed against Maxxam Corp. — Pacific Lumber's Texas-based corporate parent — the company spent more than $300,000 to get the recall on the ballot and promote it. Gallegos volunteers, many from Democracy Unlimited, worked around the clock to keep the DA in office and later crafted the ordinance to keep such a corporate-funded drive from hijacking elections again. According to Sopoci-Belknap, about 60 people had input on the ordinance, the result of approximately six months of work.
In the draft process the group researched past election expenditures to find out how many businesses and unions contributed to political campaigns.
"We looked at ... the recall campaign, we looked at one of the supervisors races — kind of the bigger races," Sopoci-Belknap said. "There really weren't many business contributions." She said that most small business owners appeared to be giving as individuals.
Left: Yes on 'T' campaign tea bag.
And that's the thing. Under T, individuals local and non-local — that means Rob Arkley and Charles Hurwitz — will still be allowed to throw money at Humboldt County elections. That doesn't necessarily mean they will do so, Sopoci-Belknap said."There are greedy people who have agendas," she said, "but I would think that Charles Hurwitz is not going to spend $100,000 of his own money in a local election here."
Nonlocal nonprofits wouldn't be allowed to contribute to campaigns, either. That includes Sopoci-Belknap's employer, Democracy Unlimited. By the narrow definition of Measure T, which states that headquarters, all employees and shareholders must be in Humboldt County, DUHC is not "local" because it's a project of a California nonprofit.
A major source of contention between Yes and No factions is the involvement of unions in campaign contributions. The way Measure T is drafted, unions — as long as they have local members — can contribute. So, for example, if the local chapter of the California Nurses Association wants to give money to a local campaign, they can. Meanwhile, St. Joseph Hospital, an Orange County-based nonprofit, cannot contribute.
Crawford thinks that's bogus. Sopoci-Belknap says unions are meant to protect employees' rights, not like a corporation that tries to protect its investments. Their union fees entitle them the right to give a specified amount of money to political campaigns. She also asserts that most unions give very little, generally only a few hundred dollars per campaign.
Right: Robert Zigler (seated) and Nancy Flemming address a Eureka Republican Women's luncheon.
WHO'S AFRAID OF MEASURE T? No on Measure T (NOT) Campaign Manager Chris Crawford won't concede to fearing Measure T. "I'm not afraid of anything," he said. "I'm just affronted." He claims Measure T is "farcical on its face."
The beefy 53-year-old business owner with the blond wavy hair can talk a good game, and certainly comes off as authoritative — intimidating, even — but his record is not as commanding. Crawford ran unsuccessfully for Humboldt County Supervisor in 2000 and was campaign manager for Rex Bohn, who lost in 2004's race against incumbent Chris Kerrigan for Eureka City Council.
Currently, he is the spokesman for the Humboldt Business Council, a 501(c)4 "dedicated to job growth and job-friendly regulations on the North Coast." Purported members include timber companies among other large businesses, though Crawford would not divulge the group's membership.
According to its website, the recently formed Humboldt Business Council has taken favorable positions on permitting for Evergreen Pulp, Balloon Track development and the Hampton Suites project on the Eureka waterfront.
Thought it would appear that the Humboldt Business Council and Democracy Unlimited are at opposite ends of the advocacy spectrum, Crawford maintains that No on T has a broad demographic of support.
"You can tell just by some of the endorsements and some of the people participating in this that this isn't just some wacko right wing knee-jerk reaction to [Measure T]," he said. Notables on the endorsements page include former Palco CEO and current Fortuna Mayor John Campbell, 2nd District Supervisor Roger Rodoni, the Eureka Reporter, the Humboldt Sentinel, the Eureka Greens, the Republican Party of Humboldt County and the Libertarian Party of Humboldt County.
Another exception Crawford takes to Yes on T's campaign is that the measure's supporters are not adhering to their own principles in that they have raised campaign funds from nonlocal entities — $7,600, at last count.
"This is a fundamental attack on our basic democratic principles," Crawford said. "It's cloaked as campaign finance reform, which is what most people want."
Crawford and NOT are among them, advocating for "true" campaign finance reform in the form of a $500 limit for political campaign contributions. They've already imposed the donation cap on their own campaign fundraising.
"I think it would solve all of these problems if there was a $500 cap," he went on. "But, you know, the devil is always in the details of these things. I think you would have to get together various stakeholder groups and come up with some language and some questions to resolve reasonable accommodations."
Sopoci-Belknap said that a $500 limit would compliment Measure T. In her view, Humboldt County is big enough for both campaign finance reform initiatives.
Left: Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap.
SO SUE ME. A Humboldt State University graduate student also contributed his thesis project to the effort, conducting a telephone survey in which he asked Humboldt County residents about their perception of corruption in local political campaigns. Seventy-eight percent of respondents agreed that "when corporations financially contribute to the electoral process it makes political corruption more likely."
It's Yes on T's claim that results of the survey, along with the recall attempt and the Wal-Mart 1999 ballot initiative to change zoning laws on the Eureka waterfront, is enough evidence to prove that the citizenry in Humboldt County believes the local democratic process is undermined by corporate advocacy. Yes on T supporters believe this means it is within the county's legal rights to impose an initiative such as Measure T. The only way to test their claim is through a legal challenge.
If Measure T passes, and a legal challenge is launched, the county could possibly spend a great deal of money defending it. (Crawford made it clear that he will not be launching any lawsuits: "I spent my life working in courts, and I know not to go there.")
But Yes on T says that lots of initiatives are threatened with a legal challenge when they're on the ballot, just like Proposition 215 was, and the threat of a lawsuit is no reason to back out. Besides, supporters have been offered pro bono legal aid from attorney John Bonifaz, a Democrat who is currently seeking to become secretary of state in Massachusetts.
Bonifaz, a confident speaker with a head of thick brown hair that would rival any Kennedy's, has visited Eureka to speak about the legal standing of Measure T. At a forum in April he made a case for the ordinance.
He explained that the 1978 Supreme Court case First National Bank of Boston v. Belotti stemmed from a situation similar to that of Measure T, where a ballot initiative was passed to bar corporate spending in elections. The initiative was challenged in court and was found to be unconstitutional. But, in a later opinion, Judge William Rehnquist explained that the court overturned the Massachusetts initiative because there was no evidence to prove that the electoral process was distorted, nor that citizen confidence in elections was diminished. In essence, Bonifaz argues that Measure T meets that test because Humboldt County can prove its elections have been negatively influenced by corporations.
Belknap and Yes on T supporters see Measure T as in-step with the fight for civil rights. They liken it to the end of racial segregation and the emancipation of women. They also delight in the coincidence that their ordinance was assigned the letter "T," and draw parallels to the Boston Tea Party, the legendary act of civil disobedience in which B-towners messed with parliament and the British East India Company, one of the largest corporations in the world at that time, sparking the Revolutionary War.
Meanwhile, Crawford's assertion remains that too much money is spent on elections and a financial cap would solve the county's election woes. He cited the example of Bohn's race against incumbent Chris Kerrigan in 2004, in which local businessman Bill Pierson contributed over $20,000 to finance Bohn's (and Crawford's) opponent. "It's ridiculous," he yelled into the phone, "for a $500 a month city council [seat] to cost $85,000!"
AMPLIFIED SPEECH. That is a point where both sides agree. But the Humboldt Coalition for Commu-nity Rights would frame it another way, and say that money is not speech, money is an amplifier to speech. The more money you have the more you get to talk to the public, and the most money pumped into elections has historically come from big businesses.
John Bonifaz contends that while corporations have the First Amendment right to free speech, they do not have the right to drown out other people's voices.
"The right to vote is far more than the right to simply pull that lever on election day," he said. "It's the right to an equal and meaningful vote, and that includes equal and meaningful participation in the entire election process — not just on election day."
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