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Hurwitz v. Gallegos


It is a sign, perhaps, of PL fatigue that the company's recent bankrolling of the effort to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos -- to the tune of $70,000 shelled out since October -- hasn't created more of a stir locally. Here we have a company owned by a wheeler-dealer from Texas trying to oust a publicly elected official, an official who is suing the wheeler-dealer's company for fraud, and the response seems to be a giant, "What else is new?"

Maybe more people are angry than is apparent. Or maybe it's the zeitgeist. We live in a time when the president of the United States misleads the American public to justify a war in the Middle East and nobody seems to care. Meantime, an action movie star ousts the governor of California less than a year into his second term and everyone applauds. Why shouldn't Charles Hurwitz try to run Gallegos out of office to avoid being taken to court? Brazenness is in. Playing by the rules is for wimps.

Hurwitz' Pacific Lumber, it is safe to say, has never been known for playing by the rules. The take-no-prisoners approach was on display from the beginning, in the mid-1980s, when Hurwitz -- up to his neck at the time in the savings and loan scandals -- snatched the company away from the Murphy family in a hostile takeover.

Then came the near tripling of the timber cut; the raiding of the employee pension fund; the "Thanksgiving Day Massacre" of 1992, when marbled murrelet survey documents were forged so the company could log ancient redwoods along Owl Creek; the hundreds of violations of state logging regulations during the 1990s, which ultimately led the California Department of Forestry to suspend Pacific Lumber's timber license; the burying of the town of Stafford in a debris torrent on New Year's day in 1997; the 1999 Headwaters deal, in which Hurwitz persuaded the state and federal governments to pay him nearly $500 million for redwoods that he couldn't legally cut; Julia Butterfly Hill; the fight for the Mattole; the ongoing battles in the Freshwater and Elk watersheds.

No wonder everyone is numb. No wonder no one wants to hear about it anymore. No wonder no one talks about all those logging trucks brimming with narrow redwoods coming down off PL land.

"That's the future they're carrying away," Eureka attorney Bill Bertain said not long ago. He's probably right. It's hard to imagine that 20 years from now Pacific Lumber will be logging at the rate they are today. Sustainability is not something Hurwitz seems to have thought about much; maximizing profit, often to the detriment of employees, has always been more his thing.

That's why we believe it's so important that Gallegos' lawsuit be given its day in court. In view of PL's long history of violations, particularly in the 1990s, it's not terribly difficult to believe Gallegos' claim that the company used deception to persuade state and federal regulators to gain access to as many as 100,000 redwoods that would otherwise have been off-limits because of their location on unstable slopes.

Pacific Lumber spokeswoman Erin Dunn repeated her claim last week that the lawsuit was "bogus and baseless." She also insisted that the company's largesse toward the anti-Gallegos camp had nothing to do with the lawsuit. "We have contributed to make sure that the citizens have a chance to vote," Dunn said last week.

I get it. Hurwitz cares about democracy. It would have been laughable were it not so brazen. But then in this day and age I guess that makes it hip.




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