September 14, 2006
Sticks and stones
by HANK SIMS
Hey, how can you tell if your lawyer is ripping you off?
Answer: Is he typing something?
There have been two plagiarism scandals to rock the county (or at least slightly rouse it) in the last half-year, and both of them have involved those bad boys of the bar. Why is that? Is there some hidden link between: a). District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who turns out to have cribbed from an obscure academic paper and Robert F. Kennedy for two Times-Standard "My Word" op-eds, one of them more or less completely unintelligible, and b). Eureka attorney Andrew Stunich, who (ahem) very closely adhered to writings found on a Christian website in his Eureka Reporter blast against the prophet Muhammed back in May. Hidden link? It's pretty much obvious -- they're both attorneys, and some of their own number admit that's pretty much tantamount to saying they're well versed in cut `n' paste composition.
Now, before we go any further let's be absolutely clear on one point, since it seems to be a sore one with both the trigger-happy Stunich and the Eureka Reporter editorial board. In the above-cited instance, Andrew Stunich did not commit plagiarism. Repeat: He did not commit plagiarism. All right? He merely took someone else's words and put them under his own name. Send your summonses elsewhere.
For background, we consulted the one man in Humboldt County who we figured could explain the thing from both the legal and the writer's perspective: Eureka attorney David Dun, author of a series of white-knuckle thrillers, including Necessary Evil, Unacceptable Risk and, most recently, The Black Silent. (Dun will be discussing his body of work at the Humboldt County Library's Eureka branch this Friday at 2 p.m.)
To hear Dun tell it, when it comes to legal arguments submitted to the court, anything goes. Cut, snip, steal from your betters -- any extra edge to win a case. It's not only acceptable, it comes close to being downright encouraged. "People do work from other each others' briefs, and I've never heard of it being a problem," he said. "Legal briefs tend to be an amalgamation of plagiarism. I've never heard of it being a problem. But publication, it's a different world."
So, attorneys, a word of advice. When you pick up pen to enter the public sphere, do as Dun does. Before you publish, double-check to see if maybe you haven't "accidentally" ripped off someone else. You'll find your efforts will be richly rewarded. When all else fails, do as Dun does -- seek permission from the author beforehand -- beforehand, mind you -- and always cite your work. This isn't always easy. Dun once started to plow through a mountain of red tape just to put a paragraph from a Discovery magazine article into the mouths of one of his characters. But part-way into the process, he gave it all up and instead -- listen, here -- decided to write the paragraph himself. Try it!
Note: Late-breaking news came across the desk late Tuesday morning, as we were on a brief break from attending the coroner's inquest into the police shooting of Cheri Moore. Turns out the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had finally ruled on an old case involving Gallegos' challenger in the last election, Deputy DA Worth Dikeman. In short, the court found, by a 6-5 vote, that years earlier, Dikeman had excluded Native Americans from serving on a jury based on the fact of their race. Gallegos supporters will say that this is a much bigger deal than their guy having cheezily cribbed passages from the work of others. And they're right.
Someone somewhere should do a study sometime. Just what is it about the City of Arcata that drives the rest of the county completely bonkers? Nearly every time there's any sort of public forum in Fortuna or Eureka or Rio Dell, some fellow will seize the podium and launch into a long, tearful speech about how his poor town has been slowly but surely going to hell for the last several decades. Bureaucrats ... red tape ... new-fangled buildings ... touch-tone phones ... Why are we all sitting around talking about it? Let's get out there and do it, damn it! That's what ol' Bill XYZ would have said, God rest his soul.
The inevitable capper to these tirades, these painful paeans to lost youth, is a stern warning, directed with a wag of the finger at whatever elected officials happen to be present: "You don't watch out, this town is going to turn into another Arcata!"
Well, really, folks. What is it you fear, actually? A healthy manufacturing base? Near-100 percent commercial occupancy rates? An innovative, world-renowned sewage treatment facility? A big fat cash cow in the form of a sustainably managed municipal forest? A thriving downtown? A place that young people move to, rather than away from?
Press them for their reasoning, and the first thing they're likely to come up with is the Arcata City Council's endless and next-to-pointless persecution of the Bush Administration. This is a valid critique. If the president has yet been moved by earnest proclamations issued in the name of all Arcatans, he has been moved only to laugh -- a little moment of levity before bedtime, courtesy of Fox News.
But look at it another way. Fact is, the City Council can waste time on its dragon quest because the city hums along just fine without it. Better, probably. Arcata municipal employees are the finest and most competent on the North Coast. Go ask an Arcatan what she's got to complain about. She might mention the Plaza scene, but she's far more likely to say potholes. Potholes, folks. The number one sign of a healthy city is people complaining about potholes.
So anti-Arcatism, given its irrationality, has all the elements of a fascinating and possibly career-making academic thesis. Until recently, we would have recommended it to the sociology department (polls, questionnaires, statistical analyses) or possibly the anthropologists (cross-cultural comparisons with the Yanomami). But last week's communique from Humboldt Taxpayers League honcho Howard Rien of Eureka convinced us that the answer lies deeper in the psyche, and should probably be approached by someone thoroughly steeped in the traditions of the Viennese school.
Because what's the first thing Rien thinks of when he thinks of Arcata? Yep: homosexuals. And in an e-mail to members of the Taxpayers League and others, he raises the spectre of a Purple Plague preparing to take Eureka from the north -- unless, that is, decent people unite around the candidacy of Eureka City Councilmember Virginia Bass in her race for mayor.
"Most, if not all, addressees are aware that the cancer that is Arcata's government is spreading," writes Rien, philosophically. "If you support that growth then you might as well delete this e-mail now. We've seen the board of supervisors approve gay issues, we've witnessed Eureka's Mayor [Peter La Vallee] being a co-Grand Marshall of Arcata's gay parade and his chastising of four members of Eureka's City Council for following state law on the gay issue. I can name other issues besides the gay one but [I] don't want to bore you, and I feel that this issue would get your attention better."
OK -- attention got. What does Rien do with it, now that he has it?
"Don't misunderstand me," he continues, "I don't give a damn what gay couples do in their bedrooms and I support their right to be legally treated like anyone else . . . as long as it is the same (divorce laws, marriage license, etc.) and not called marriage. Call it `Kinky Coupling' or whatever."
Only after this inadvisable proviso does Rien get around to the point -- to ask like-minded citizens to turn out for a Bass rally. We tried to reach the candidate to see what she had to say about Rien's views on the cancer that is Arcata and/or kinky coupling, but she was out of town last week. She's got a long list of supporters on her website, though, and for some reason Rien's name isn't among them.
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