Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Defense Attorneys Urge Supes to Scrap Public Defender Hire, Start Over

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 2:03 PM

  • Thinkstock
It’s very hard to say exactly what recently hired Public Defender David Marcus has been doing for the last five years since his controversial tenure leading Lassen County’s defense services for the indigent came to a close.

The resume Marcus submitted to the county indicates that, since leaving Lassen County in 2012, he has worked for the firm Cella Lange and Cella as a contract attorney, doing transactional real estate and property loss consulting. But that seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Google the firm’s name and you’ll find plenty of listings — on directory sites like — indicating the firm has a Walnut Creek address, but you’ll be hard pressed to find anything more. The firm has no website, and doesn’t seem to come up in any news stories or legal filings on the web. Google the firm’s name and Marcus’ together and you’ll get zero hits.

In an effort to find out more about the firm and Marcus, the Journal called it directly, twice, telling a receptionist we were hoping to speak with someone who’s worked with Marcus or supervised him. No one returned the call. We called back saying we simply wanted additional information about the firm — things like how many attorneys it employed, how many offices it has and what areas of law it specializes in — and the receptionist said there was no one there who could answer those questions. Pressed, he said the firm specializes in “civil law” before assuring someone would return the Journal’s call. No one did.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Journal News Editor Wins Freedom of Information Award

Posted By on Sat, Feb 11, 2017 at 10:51 AM

  • Thadeus Greenson

The Society of Professional Journalists Northern California officially announced yesterday that Thadeus Greenson, the Journal's news editor, won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award. It's an award Caroline Titus of the Ferndale Enterprise took home in 2016, and the Journal's then staff writer and editor Hank Sims and Emily Gurnon won in 2005.

Greenson is being recognized for his "years long battle with the city of Eureka over the release of police camera footage of an arrest." (That arrest by then Eureka Police Sgt. Adam Laird and the departmental drama that followed it are, coincidentally, the subject of next week's cover story on stands Wednesday.) The end result of Greenson and the Journal's pursuit of the video, in Humboldt County Superior Court and then in the California First District Court of Appeals, was a state precedent-setting opinion that kept the city — and any others in California — from treating police camera footage as confidential officer personnel records.

Particularly in our current climate, with heightened awareness of police misconduct and the potential abuses of power, that ruling in favor of transparency is a win for journalists throughout the state, the public and those police departments working toward trust in the communities they protect. We could not be more proud of Greenson's work on this story and in every issue of the Journal.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why Some Feel the Deck was Stacked for the Prosecution in HumCo's Public Defender Hiring

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 8:54 AM

  • Thinkstock
After a process that some perceive as deeply troubling, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors announced Tuesday that it is tapping David Marcus, a Florida attorney, to be the county’s next public defender.

The three-month search to replace recently retired Public Defender Kevin Robinson, who packed up his briefcase in December, caused controversy in local defense attorney circles because of its reliance on input from a prosecutor, police and others who traditionally find themselves in adversarial courtroom roles with the public defender’s office. And the hiring of Marcus seems unlikely to allay the concerns of some who believe the county stacked the deck.

“It’s absolutely appalling,” said Arcata defense attorney Jeff Schwartz about the makeup of the panel, which included District Attorney Maggie Fleming, Undersheriff William Honsal and Probation Chief Bill Damiano but not a single defense attorney. “It’s the fox watching the hen house. It wasn’t a fair process. It’s a sad day for criminal justice in Humboldt County.”

Marcus’ last stint as a public defender in Lassen County was shrouded in controversy, a large part of it centering around what was perceived as an overly cozy relationship with the district attorney’s office.
If you look at national guidelines for public defense work, you’ll find that independence is a guiding principle. The American Bar Association lists “professional independence” as one of its core standards for criminal defense work and its single most important principle of public defense work.

The concept is integral to citizens’ constitutional protections, explained Ernie Lewis, executive director of the National Association for Public Defense, a 15,000-member national organization.

“The public defender stands between a person accused of a crime and all the mighty power of the state,” Lewis explained, adding that if a public defender loses his or her independence from the prosecutions’ office then the entire system is rigged against a defendant.

In Lassen County, a rural area home to about 32,000 people east of Redding where Marcus served as public defender from 2005 to 2011, some felt he failed to live up to this awesome responsibility.
Just prior to Marcus’ arrival in Lassen, his predecessor, Toni Healy, filed a legal challenge against Lassen County Superior Court Judge Ridgely Lazard, alleging he was biased and prejudiced against Healy and the public defender’s office. A visiting judge ultimately heard the case and ruled in Healy’s favor, finding “court records, transcripts of recorded arraignments, official transcripts, court minutes, sworn statements of defendants and others, all of which indicate that Judge Lazard actively prevented the public defenders from properly representing clients entitled to representation,” according to an Aug. 23, 2011, story in the Lassen County Times. The decision disqualified Lazard from hearing any cases involving the public defender’s office but, just about a year after taking over Healy’s job, Marcus agreed to let Lazard once again preside over those cases.

Marcus later sparked a controversy by contracting with out-of-state defense investigators, telling the Lassen County Board of Supervisors he did so because the district attorney’s office felt local investigators in Susanville lacked credibility. Local investigators were outraged.

“The public defender seems to have lost sight of the fact that his office’s primary responsibility is to assist public clients and not facilitate the district attorney’s prosecutions,” one local investigator, Ron Wood, told the board of supervisors, according to a 2011 report in the Lassen County Times. “Why should the district attorney be consulted concerning the hiring of the public defender’s investigators? The truth is a less than rigorous public defense investigator benefits the district attorney but doesn’t always serve the public or justice.”

The dissension surrounding Marcus extended beyond his relationship with prosecutors. In its 2010-2011 report, the Lassen County Civil Grand Jury issued a scathing report on Marcus, saying he “appears to only spend an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the day at work.” Further, the grand jury alleged Marcus was not actively engaged in the office’s caseload other than handling felony preliminary hearings. The report also alleged that Marcus used funding allotted by the board of supervisors for continuing education for his office solely on himself, forcing his deputy public defenders to pay out of pocket to attend trainings, seminars and courses to keep them abreast of changes in the law and developments in legal theory.

The Lassen County Times reported that Marcus left the county’s employment to become the CEO of a dental lab company in Virginia. It’s unclear how long he stayed in that job, or what exactly he’s been up to since. The California State Bar website lists his practice’s address as a residence in Jacksonville, Florida. The answering machine there indicates the place is his family home, and makes no mention of a legal practice. Marcus did not return multiple messages left by the Journal in recent days, and we couldn’t find any indications online as to what he’s been up to since leaving Lassen County in 2011, other than settling in Jacksonville.

While Marcus’ resume likely only adds to concerns about the county’s hiring process, many maintain it would have been flawed no matter its outcome.

Robinson, now retired, said he was “somewhat aggravated” to learn a panel consisting of Fleming, Honsal, Damiano and representatives from Child Welfare Services and the county Department of Health and Human Services would be advising supervisors on hiring his replacement. Robinson — who is widely respected both as a defense attorney and for the public defender’s office he built up — said he was not consulted and, instead, actively reached out to the board to give his unsolicited input. He told the Journal back in October that he would recommend Greg Elvine-Kreis, his office’s supervising attorney and the current interim public defender, as his successor. Elvine-Kreis and Deputy Public Defender Kaleb Cockrum reportedly joined Marcus as the three finalists for the job.
Humboldt County Human Resources Director Dan Fulks said he personally put the interview panel together, dubbing it a “subject matter experts” panel. “These are subject matter experts, these are people that have dealings with the public defender on an ongoing basis,” he explained. Asked why there wasn’t anyone from the defense side of the courtroom involved, Fulks said he felt it would have been impractical to get a private defense attorney to take a day off work to sit through interviews.

But the county has done just that in the past. Local attorney Patrik Griego said he has happily served on two hiring panels for the county — one for a defense investigator and another for an office manager for the public defender’s office — including one about two years ago. Griego added that he did decline a panel invite in September of 2016 due to a planned vacation. He was not invited to participate in the public defender hiring process. “Private attorneys are willing to do this and have at least as much time as the DA to do this work,” Griego said.

Fulks said both the “subject matter expert” panel and the Board of Supervisors interviewed a batch of finalists culled down from the initial 19 applicants for the post. Then, Fulks said, the supervisors got a chance to meet with the other interview panel and “seek input on their viewpoints on the candidates.”

He disputed the notion that a panel laden with a prosecutor and law enforcement officers may have skewed the process. “They’re independent,” Fulks said of the supervisors. “You don’t tell the board what to do. They heard what they heard and made their own decisions from that.”

Supervisors Estelle Fennell and Mike Wilson declined to comment for this story when reached prior to Tuesday’s announcement of Marcus’ hire, noting the process was conducted in closed session. In an email, Supervisor Virginia Bass said the board had an “excellent pool” of candidates to choose from and dismissed the notion that there was any bias among members of the advisory panel.
“I believe that all members of the panel recognized how important the position of public defender is and put any adversarial bias aside,” she wrote, adding that after the interviews the panel members “spoke of the pros and cons they felt each candidate possessed based upon their interviews and provided us with a non formal ranking.”

Bass said "passion, integrity, professionalism, flexibility" and "an ability to think outside the box" were the most important qualities she was looking for in the county's next public defender, emphasizing "passion" as the most important.
For his part, Lewis, who directs the National Association for Public Defense, said there’s little uniformity across the nation in how public defense is provided, much less in how public defenders are hired. But he said there are standards — including that a hiring panel should never have a sitting judge or prosecutor included on it. Sometimes that standard is ignored, such was the case when a controversy erupted in San Diego County in 2009 when a sitting assistant district attorney sat on a public defender hiring panel, joined by probation officials, representatives from the superior court, a law professor and others.

But, Lewis said, Humboldt County’s panel being filled with people who “have an incentive to select a weak chief public defender” is “nothing like what we see across the country.”

“I’ve never heard of an advisory committee so skewed toward law enforcement,” Lewis said.

Editor's note: This story was updated from a previous version to include the comments of Patrik Griego.

Journal staff writer and assistant editor Kimberly Wear contributed to this report.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal’s news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, February 4, 2017

AG: No Criminal Charges Against HumCo Judges

Posted By on Sat, Feb 4, 2017 at 2:34 PM

  • Illustration by Christian Pennington
The California Attorney General’s Office has decided not to pursue criminal charges against a pair of Humboldt County Superior Court judges accused of submitting false affidavits to the state in order to receive their salaries.

The office’s review of the case — conducted at the request of Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming — spanned more than a year, following a pair of public admonishments issued by the Commission on Judicial Performance, the state body tasked with oversight and discipline of California’s nearly 2,000 judges. According to a California Department of Justice spokesperson, the AG’s Office decided last month, “after a complete review … no action is warranted on the part of this office.” A letter the office sent to Fleming notes that the judges face "persistently extreme workloads" and that the commission is the entity tasked by the state with judicial oversight.

"It is our belief in these instances that the Commission on Judicial Performance was the most qualified entity to investigate and take appropriate action, and in this case it did so," the letter states.

The two admonishments — the first issued to Judge Dale Reinholtsen in September of 2015 and the second to Judge Christopher Wilson in January of 2016 — were unprecedented in Humboldt County, and represent the first time the commission has publicly disciplined a local judge since its formation in 1960. Statewide, the commission fields some 1,200 complaints a year but metes out discipline — ranging from private advisory letters to removing judges from office — in only 40 or so cases annually.

The admonishments constitute black marks that threaten to forever stain the careers of Wilson and Reinholtsen, but they have been met with mixed reactions in the local courthouse, where both judges are widely considered thoughtful, thorough and hard working, and some see the public reprimands as the result of a “crushing” and unrealistic caseload.

The admonishments stem from a provision in the California constitution that requires the state’s judges to decide matters submitted to them within 90 days. State law requires judges to submit affidavits to the state swearing that they don’t have any matters pending before them that are more than 90 days old in order to receive their paychecks. If they have a backlog of decisions, the state withholds their salaries until they’ve cleared their desks of delinquent rulings.

In its admonishments, the Commission on Judicial Performance alleged that Reinholtsen and Wilson both repeatedly signed affidavits while they had delinquent decisions pending and that both illegally received their paychecks from the state on numerous occasions. Specifically, Reinholtsen was alleged to have decided 20 matters past the 90-day deadline, signed false affidavits seven times and illegally received his salary 13 times over the course of several years. Wilson was alleged to have signed eight false salary affidavits and received his salary on six occasions when it should have been withheld under the law.

Reinholtsen and Wilson both declined to comment for this story, with Wilson saying it would be inappropriate of him to do so because the Journal currently has a matter pending before him. Humboldt County Superior Court Presiding Judge Joyce Hinrichs, meanwhile, also declined to comment.

As we reported in our March 10, 2016, cover story “Judged,” the commission pointed to heavy caseloads as a potentially mitigating factor in its admonishments of Reinholtsen and Wilson. The state has determined Humboldt County needs two additional judges to manage its current caseload, yet has so far refused to fund the new positions. Local judges also have minimal support staff, with only one staff attorney to research case law for all seven judges and a pair of administrative assistants the judges share with the court executive office.

When the Journal spoke to Dustin Owens, president of the Humboldt County Bar Association for our story last March, he said the local association considered whether to make a public statement on the admonishments — whether it be condemning the judge’s actions or defending them — but couldn’t reach consensus. Some felt Reinholtsen and Wilson broke the law, committing perjury — considered a crime or moral turpitude and a disbarrable offense — by knowingly signing a false affidavit and should be punished. Others felt they are good judges in an untenable situation who were being reprimanded for taking on too much in an effort to keep the court’s head above water.

Some local attorneys also expressed concern about how the admonishments may impact Humboldt County’s ability to fill its bench in the future. Currently, one of the county’s seven local judgeships is vacant, and has been since Judge Bruce Watson retired last January as the governor’s office still has not appointed a replacement. Some think that is in part because there has been a dearth of applicants for what many consider an undesirable job.

Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that Judge Reinholtsen got back to us in order to decline to comment for this story.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 26, 2017

County's Attempt to Depublish Scathing Legal Rebuke Denied

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 2:08 PM

Dick and Judy Magney around the time they met in 1992 - PHOTO COURTESY OF JUDY MAGNEY
  • Photo courtesy of Judy Magney
  • Dick and Judy Magney around the time they met in 1992
The California Supreme Court has rejected without comment Humboldt County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck's bid to have a scathing appellate opinion about his office’s conduct depublished.

The case centers on the county’s legal fight against Carlotta couple Judy and Dick Magney, who successfully challenged attempts by Adult Protective Services and the Public Guardian’s Office to override Dick Magney's legally binding advance directive in order to force medical treatment (“Profoundly Disturbing,” Jan. 12).

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Elder Abuse Case Against Timber Ridge Yields $5 Million Verdict

Posted By and on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 3:18 PM

  • From Timber Ridge's website
Timber Ridge McKinleyville will pay the family of a woman who died under its care $5 million after a jury found the facility liable for wrongful death and elder abuse on Jan. 17. The amount includes $2.5 million in punitive damages.

The suit, brought by Valerie Monschke, a daughter of the resident, stems from an incident in September 2013 in which 90-year old woman, Marjorie Fitzpatrick, made her way into a courtyard and fell, breaking her wrist and nose and suffering a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage and intravicular hematoma (brain injuries). Fitzpatrick, a dementia patient, lay on the ground between 30 and 45 minutes before she was noticed and hospitalized. She died less than a month later.

The attorney for the plaintiff, Timothy Needham of Janssen Malloy LLP, charged that the facility was guilty of elder abuse because caregivers had failed to give Fitzpatrick her anti-anxiety medication the day of her fall, meaning she was manic and agitated. A manifest of the facility’s monitoring system show that Fitzpatrick was restless and tried to leave the facility several times that day, opening several doors to the outside. Despite this, staff did not notice that she had exited a door into the courtyard before falling, despite her exit triggering an alarm.

The jury backed up the plaintiff’s assertion that the facility should not have admitted Fitzpatrick in the first place as it did not have the proper staff or training to care for a patient with her level of dementia. The plaintiff also alleged that the facility did not properly assess Fitzpatrick before admitting her, and failed to properly monitor her to prevent falls, despite her having suffered one in July 2013.

In his closing arguments, Needham stated that the facility had broken its promises. The family paid $1,200 for an assessment that wasn’t done, and paid around $5,000 a month in rent, and Fitzpatrick’s care did not meet the standards of care promised by the facility, he told jurors.

“They said they were in need of more clients and therefore more money, by not doing the assessment they would be able to take on more clients,” Needham said.

The plaintiffs also alleged that Timber Ridge staff destroyed evidence in the case: shredding incident reports and statements, destroying a “pass down binder” or log, and taping over video that showed Fitzpatrick falling and lying injured on the ground.

He closed his statements by telling the jury that their verdict would be a referendum on “how the elderly will be treated in Humboldt County.”

The attorney for Timber Ridge, Rudy Nolen, said in his closing arguments that Needham’s assessment was “just wrong,” and that the facility was not responsible for providing nursing or medical care, although they have a nurse consultant available by phone. The caregivers, he said, had provided excellent care for the majority of Fitzpatrick’s stay in the dementia unit.

“For 455 days she was there, and 453 of those were uneventful,” he said.

He added that the case was complicated as there were two different burdens of proof using the same set of evidence, and the cost of damages as assessed by the plaintiff’s attorney were excessive.

“I don’t think there is any evidence of elder abuse in this case,” Nolen said repeatedly.

Reached today by phone, Needham said the verdict was sadly unusual in elder abuse cases.

“These cases are by definition extremely difficult to win,” he said. “You have to prove the case by clear and convincing evidence, and your best witness is deceased or has dementia. In this instance, you have an occasion where the defendants have made a concerted effort to destroy anything that would prove your case.”

Needham added that in many elder care facilities staff are very minimally trained.

“There’s less oversight in these facilities than there is to open a barbershop,” he said. “Only 1 in 10 cases of elder abuse are ever reported and less than 1 in 100 go to trial. It’s a damned shame.”

Erin Wohlfiel, director of marketing and creative development at Timber Ridge, sent the Journal the following statement:

"The death of any resident, for any reason, saddens us deeply. In this case, we acknowledge that mistakes were made, however inadvertently, and we will always regret that. We have learned from these mistakes and taken steps to prevent their recurrence."

She added:

"We have never had any other incident of this severity in our 17-year-history, and most Humboldt County residents know of our stellar reputation for compassionate and highly competent care. "

Wohlfiel could not comment on the accusations that employees had destroyed evidence in the case. She said the terms of the payment and whether the case will be appealed will be determined by the facility's insurance company.

In her obituary, Fitzpatrick is described as a very active member of her community. An Arcata resident since 1951 who volunteered with the United Way, Fitzpatrick served on the board of the Humboldt Area Foundation, the Redwoods United Foundation and on the advisory board of the California Criminal Justice Association. She also chaired the committee that created the cookbook A Taste of Humboldt, the proceeds of which went toward setting up a scholarship for members of the Youth Education Services program at Humboldt State University. According to Needham, at least part of the settlement will be donated to the Humboldt Area Foundation to continue her legacy, the Marjorie Fitzpatrick Cookbook Scholarship Fund.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Friday, December 30, 2016

McClain Family Settles Wrongful Death Suit

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 11:21 AM

  • Thomas McClain
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The family of a man shot dead by a Northern California police officer settled a wrongful death suit Thursday after a jury found the officer and victim equally negligent in the fatal shooting last month.

Eureka police officer Stephen Linfoot shot and killed Thomas “Tommy” McClain, 22, during a late-night confrontation in the young man’s front yard on Sept. 17, 2014.

Following a week-long trial in McKinleyville last month, jurors found Linfoot not guilty of excessive or unreasonable force but did find him and the city at fault for negligence.

Dale Galipo, the civil rights attorney representing McClain’s parents, said both sides decided to settle the case after the jury verdict to “get this behind them” and avoid post-trial motions and appeals.

“After the verdict was reached, the city agreed to pay the amount of the verdict plus our costs,” Galipo said. “The family wanted some closure so we decided based on the jury award plus costs, the case should be dismissed.”

The city’s insurance company paid McClain’s parents $157,000 to settle the case, according to a joint stipulation for dismissal filed on Thursday.

The jury had awarded McClain’s parents $300,000 in damages, but reduced the award by half after finding McClain 50 percent responsible for the fatal encounter.

U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III, who presided over the trial last month, signed an order dismissing the case with prejudice on Thursday.

Galipo said even though his clients feel the award should have been higher and that Linfoot should have been found guilty of violating McClain’s constitutional rights, they still consider the outcome a victory.

“We still feel it’s a victory,” Galipo said. “We just wish we could have had a bigger victory.”

Galipo described the jury as “somewhat conservative” and said he felt the verdict was ultimately a compromise between some jurors who sided with police and others who felt McClain’s family deserved more money for their son’s untimely death.

McClain’s parents, Lance McClain and Jeanne Barragan, filed the federal wrongful death suit in May 2015. The parents claimed their son had his hands in the air and was complying with orders when Linfoot fired seven bullets, three of which struck and killed their son as he stood in his front yard.

The city claimed McClain was reaching for what turned out to be a BB gun in his waistband and that Linfoot acted appropriately to neutralize a potentially deadly threat.

At a time when police shootings have sparked a national conversation about the use of deadly force, Galipo said civil litigation serves an important role in holding officers accountable and helping to bring about change in law enforcement policies.

“Most of these families feel like I feel – that if what we’re doing can potentially save people’s lives down the line, then it’s worth it, because most families do not want to see this happen to someone else’s family,” Galipo said. “That’s one of the main reasons they bring these cases. They don’t want to have to see someone else bury their son or daughter.”

Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday, but he told the North Coast Journal last month that McClain made “some bad choices” that led to the fatal encounter, and that he felt for the parents and officers who had to endure a difficult trial over the tragic case.

The Eureka City Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a phone call request for comment Thursday afternoon.

This story was reprinted with with the permission of Courthouse News Service.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Is This Criminal Assault?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 4:40 PM

It’s been almost four years since the Eureka Police Department and the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office held a rare joint press conference on April 17, 2013 to announce they’d arrest an EPD sergeant on suspicion of assaulting a 14-year-old during an arrest.

Four months earlier, shortly before midnight on Dec. 6, 2012, EPD received a report of a gang fight near Twenty-Thirty Park on Summer Street. The first officer on scene reported no fight but saw a male and a female walking, and noted the male — later identified as a 5-foot-6-inch, 130-pound 14-year-old — was carrying a golf club.

The boy — who later told police he had been drunk at the time, having drank two Four Lokos (a caffeinated malt liquor beverage) — fled when he saw the officer and a foot pursuit ensued. At some point, former EPD Sgt. Adam Laird joined the fray as backup as the kid fled through a backyard and ultimately wound up on California Street. There, the juvenile abruptly stopped running — later telling investigators he didn’t want police to shoot him — and gave up. He was then pushed to the ground by officers.

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Yurok Tribe Blames Feds for Salmon Die-Off

Posted By on Sun, Dec 4, 2016 at 9:11 AM

Favorable ocean conditions and heavy rains have brought the Chinook Salmon back, but to a river choking of toxic algae. - FILE
  • FILE
  • Favorable ocean conditions and heavy rains have brought the Chinook Salmon back, but to a river choking of toxic algae.
SAN FRANCISCO — The federal government was hit with a second lawsuit this week claiming its bungled management of waterways allowed a deadly parasite to infect 91 percent of endangered juvenile coho salmon on the California-Oregon border.

The lawsuit from the 5,000-member Yurok Tribe comes four months after the 2,700-member Hoopa Valley Tribe in Humboldt County blamed the feds for causing lethal infections in threatened Chinook salmon.

“Defendants’ illegal operations of the Klamath Project threaten the health and viability of these species and, in turn, threaten the continued ability of the Yurok Tribe and its members to harvest fish for subsistence and commercial purposes, and conduct ceremonies for the fish and well-being of the Yurok people, and threaten the very identity of the Yurok Tribe and its people,” the Yurok say in their 45-page complaint.

The infections are blamed on low-flow conditions in the Klamath River and its streams. The water levels are controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the Klamath Irrigation Project in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

The deadly parasite Ceratanova shasta, or C. shasta, flourishes in low-flow conditions that produce warm, slack water where host worms thrive and juvenile salmon tend to congregate. Signs of infected salmon include cell decay in intestinal tissue, severe inflammation and death.

After reviewing Klamath Project plans, the defendant National Marine Fisheries Service issued a biological opinion in 2013 estimating that infection rates would not exceed 49 percent. But surveys found infection rates climbed to 81 percent in 2014 and 91 percent in 2015.

The tribe says those high infection rates should have triggered the requirement for the Bureau to review the project’s impact on an endangered species, but the government has refused to take that step.

After the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes, along with a coalition of fishermen and conservation groups, threatened to sue, the co-defendant Bureau of Reclamation formed a technical advisory team in July to recommend steps for reducing C. shasta infection rates.

On Nov. 9, the team created a guidance document urging the Bureau to provide regular flush flows at certain times of the year to flush out worms that host the parasites. The document also recommends reserving 50,000 acre-feet of water for emergency spring dilution and disruption flows each spring when certain conditions, such as high water temperatures and disease rates, require urgent action.

On Nov. 28, the technical staff and federal agencies commented on the guidance document, “largely agreeing with the need for additional flows to flush out polychaetes [host worms] and an emergency dilution flow regime,” according to the complaint.

But the Bureau did not commit to any mitigation measures, the tribe says, which violates the Endangered Species Act. They say failure to reinitiate formal consultation on the project’s impact on coho salmon also violates the Administrative Procedure Act and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act.

Finally, they say, the National Marine Fisheries Service 2013 biological opinion that authorized the project was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

Klamath River at Hopkins Creek, close to Weitchpec. - FILE
  • File
  • Klamath River at Hopkins Creek, close to Weitchpec.
The Yurok seek an injunction compelling the Bureau to relaunch the formal consultation process and stop limiting disease-management flows and other operations “reasonably certain to take juvenile coho salmon.”

It also seeks an order invalidating provisions of the 2013 biological opinion.

Co-plaintiffs include the Pacific Coast Federation of  ishermen’s Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and Klamath Riverkeeper.

They are represented by Kristen Boyles with Earthjustice in Seattle.

National Marine Fishers Service spokesman Jim Midbury declined comment.

Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Shane Hunt did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

This story was reprinted with with the permission of Courthouse News Service.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Father, son plead guilty to fatal Hoopa shooting

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 1:56 PM

  • Thinkstock
A father and son pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to their roles in a fatal Hoopa shooting in March of 2015 that left one man dead and two others wounded in a dispute over a marijuana deal. Hoopa resident Daniel Peter Colegrove, 73, died after being transported to a hospital in Redding.

Under the plea agreement, Rodney Vincent Ortiz, 54, and Vincent Rudy Ortiz, 27, each face a maximum sentence of life in prison after pleading guilty to one count of use of a firearm during a drug transaction and one count of use of a firearm causing murder, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 2.

Read the full press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office below:
SAN FRANCISCO – Rodney Vincent Ortiz and Vincent Rudy Ortiz (collectively, the defendants) pleaded guilty today in federal court today for their respective roles in the March 21, 2015, drug related shooting and murder on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Humboldt County, Calif., announced United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. The guilty pleas were accepted by the Honorable Richard Seeborg, U.S. District Judge.

According to the plea agreement, the defendants committed the shooting and murder following a dispute over a drug transaction that took place a week earlier. Vincent Ortiz, 27, of Willow Creek, Calif., admits he sold what was supposed to be a pound of marijuana to Victim 1, a resident and member of the reservation.

When Victim 1 complained that the amount of marijuana was less than a pound, Vincent eventually traveled with his father, Rodney Ortiz, 54, to Victim 1’s residence to resolve the dispute. Rodney Ortiz admits he brought a loaded firearm to the residence; Vincent Ortiz admits he knew Rodney Ortiz brought the loaded firearm and that it was foreseeable his father would use the weapon to shoot Victim 1.

When the defendants arrived at the residence, they encountered a group of people inside. An argument ensued between Victim 1 and Rodney Ortiz, resulting in Rodney Ortiz shooting Victim 1 and Victim 2 in the head. Rodney Ortiz then shot Victim 3 in the head and shoulder before fleeing the scene with his son, Vincent.

Victim 1 died as a result of the shooting, but Victims 2 and 3 managed to survive. In his plea agreement, Vincent Ortiz admits he aided and abetted Rodney Ortiz’s use, carrying, and discharging of the firearm in furtherance of and in relation to the drug conspiracy and the resulting murder of Victim 1. Vincent Ortiz also acknowledges in his plea agreement that he reasonably could have foreseen the shootings of Victims 2 and 3.

A federal grand jury indicted the defendants on December 17, 2015. In the indictment, the defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(D), use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) and 2; and use of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime causing murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(j) and 2, obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(C) and (k), and use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

Pursuant to today’s plea agreement, the defendants both pleaded guilty to one count of use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime and one count of use of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime causing the murder of Victim 1.

The defendants are next scheduled to appear before Judge Seeborg on May 2, 2017, for a sentencing hearing. The maximum statutory penalties for use of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime are life imprisonment, and a mandatory minimum term of 10 years imprisonment, to be imposed consecutive to any other term of imprisonment.

The maximum statutory penalty for use of a firearm causing murder is life imprisonment. Each crime carries a maximum term of 5 years supervised release and a $250,000 fine. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Hopkins is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Lance Libatique and Jessica Meegan. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, Eureka Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Recent Comments


Facebook | Twitter

© 2017 The North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation