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Oct. 30, 2003


What's next in the DA recall

A numbers game will now determine if it goes to a vote



NEW LEAD IN MITCHELL CASE: Early this week, the Eureka Police Department made a startling announcement -- that it had recently developed new information about the abduction of Eureka teenager Karen Mitchell in 1997, and that a break in the case could be coming soon. "With the information we have, it's a substantial lead that makes sense," said EPD Detective Dave Parris. "We believe that there are responsibles out there, and we want them to know that we are on it."

Parris stressed that contrary to recent articles in the New York Post and elsewhere, the new lead does not have anything to do with former Trinidad resident Robert Durst, a multimillionaire currently standing trial for murder in Galveston, Texas. Reportedly, some detectives in the Bay Area are looking into Durst as a suspect in the Mitchell case and the disappearance of 18-year-old Oakland resident Kristen Modafferi. Modafferi went missing in San Francisco in June 1997 -- just a few months before Mitchell, who was last seen at the Bayshore Mall on Nov. 25 of that year.

MEET THE XOWANNUTUCK: It was nothing on the scale of last weekend's fires in Los Angeles -- knock on wood -- but the hard-to-pronounce Xowannutuck Fire in Redwood National Park sent great clouds of brown smoke into the air this week, affecting people as far away as Trinidad, and burning a total of 275 acres by press time late Tuesday. The fire began life as a prescribed burn of some second-growth redwood southeast of Orick, but the unseasonally hot and dry weather over the weekend encouraged it to jump lines. According the not-quite-so-hard-to-pronounce Kale Bowling-Schaff, a park interpreter who is serving as information officer for the duration of the fire, parks firefighting staff is receiving good support from the California Department of Forestry and other agencies, and it is hoped that the Xowannutuck can be disposed of before too long. "It seems to behaving itself relatively well, given the conditions," Bowling-Schaff said. "We're counting our blessings."

BLACK INK, FOR NOW: Has the Ink People Center for the Arts locked its doors for lack of funds? Despite rumors to the contrary, it has not, thanks to an outpouring of support this week. Last week things were looking bad, according to Jim Lawer, the organization's administrative director. Faced with a pile of bills, including an overdue $1,900 liability insurance bill and an outstanding workers' comp bill (another $450), Lawer was looking at a bank balance that was "almost nothing" -- in part because of an end to funding from the California Arts Council.

On Friday, Lawer made a pitch for contributions on public access television (the Ink People oversee operation of Channel 12) and called the press, while members of the board of directors sent out a pitch via e-mail. It worked. On Monday the money started rolling in, and by the end of the day over $5,000 was raised -- enough for Lawer to call the creditors and tell them, "the check's in the mail."

While the immediate problem is solved, there are others down the pike: The organization's home in the back of Eureka's Municipal Auditorium is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the city can't afford to fix it, so the Ink People will eventually need to find a new home.

What's next in the DA recall
A numbers game will now determine if it goes to a vote


Election chief Lindsey McWilliams confirmed early this week that supporters of the Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos turned in nearly 17,000 signatures in support of putting the recall on the ballot.

Now, with last month's gubernatorial recall behind them and next week's local district races still to come, McWilliams and his staff must tackle the arduous task of figuring how many of the signatures supporting the recall of the District Attorney are from valid, registered Humboldt County voters.

To qualify for the ballot, at least 11,138 of the 16,961 signatures submitted to McWilliams and his staff must be valid. The elections staff may, in the end, have to verify each one of those signatures individually -- but only if a statistical sample of the ballots, now underway, is inconclusive.

The statistical sampling method, used to estimate a "presumed" number of legitimate signatures, will pick 5 percent of the total number of signatures at random. Each of those chosen signatures will be checked against the election office's database of registered voters to determine if the signer is a legitimate voter.

For every invalid signature discovered in the sample, 20 votes are subtracted from the total number of signatures turned in. From that, a presumed total number of valid signatures is calculated.

In addition, for every duplicate signature that is found during the sampling process, 380 votes are subtracted from the presumed number of valid signatures.

The reason why the sampling process takes away more votes for duplicates "is that the chances of finding a duplicate are much smaller," said Shirley Washington of the California Secretary of State's office.

If the sample estimates that less than 90 percent of the total signatures needed to qualify are valid, the recall election will be called off. If it calculates that the number of valid signatures exceeds the number needed to qualify by more than 10 percent, the election will be held.

But if the sample comes up with a number between those two poles, the elections office will have to verify each signature individually.

Given the pressures of the upcoming election, it will probably be early next week before the results of the statistical sample are known.

If the recall does make the ballot, and if it appears on the same ballot as the March 2 presidential primary race, potential replacement candidates must declare their intentions to run by Dec. 18.

Probably because it is still uncertain whether or not the recall will qualify, no local attorneys have yet stepped forward. At least one potential candidate has definitively ruled out the possibility, though.

When asked if the DA's office would consider a "Bustamante" strategy" -- offering a replacement candidate from the incumbent's own camp -- Assistant DA Tim Stoen, the head of the office's lawsuit against Pacific Lumber, said that he would never consider running as a "No on the Recall/Yes on Stoen" candidate.

"I'm content in my job," Stoen said.



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