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Feb. 19, 2004


Chasing the truth



The next two weeks will be an adrenaline rush for those in the news business and political junkies everywhere. On Thursday the long-anticipated financial disclosure forms are due, and we will learn even more about the financial involvement of Pacific Lumber Co. in the attempt to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos. From the blitz of flashy mailers to the clever TV ads, there's a whole lot of money coming from somewhere. In all likelihood, it's Maxxam/PL owner Charles Hurwitz signing the checks in Texas. As we mentioned in an editorial two weeks ago, it's just cheaper for him to finance an election than to defend himself in court. It's not personal; it's just business.

I've covered a lot of political battles in Humboldt County, and the DA recall is a doozy. (See this week's cover story for how Gallegos is holding up.) A statement by Rob Flanigan, a Sacramento consultant hired by the pro-recall committee, raised both my eyebrows. He's been crowing to the media, "I'm going to take [Gallegos] out!" (See separate story)

Political reporters will be working overtime chasing the truth as the clock ticks away. In the 2nd District race, Roger Rodoni, whom we have generally supported in the past, was caught on television last week in a little untruth.

Journal reporter Hank Sims posed this question to Rodoni in a KEET-TV televised debate: "As you know, the Fair Political Practices Commission's Enforcement Division has received complaints and opened a file about a vote you made concerning the Pacific Lumber Co. Will you recuse yourself from future Pacific Lumber-related votes until that agency has closed that file?

Rodoni: "I am not aware of the file. When I call up the Fair Political Practices Commission, they say they do not comment on whether a file is open or not. Mr. Sims, you apparently have an in with them that I do not have. Credibility, I guess, becomes an issue here."

Credibility indeed. Sims in fact spoke with Rodoni's wife, Johanna, more than a month ago about this subject and Sims faxed her the FPPC letter we received in response to our Public Records Act request. The letter clearly states, "FPPC Case No. 0203252, Roger Rodoni, is an open case at this time." There was also a name and number to call if we had any other questions. The FPPC may eventually rule that the cheap rent that Rodoni pays his landlord, Pacific Lumber, does not conflict with his duties on the Board of Supervisors, but as of Tuesday, "The case is still open," according to a FPPC spokesperson.

Finally, as we all attempt to sort the truths from the untruths in this election, let's keep in mind the fallibility of all humans. Let's assume Rodoni may have made a mistake in voting on an issue involving his own landlord. (We think so. Even if it isn't illegal, the public perception is that there is an inherent conflict, and his impartiality is in question.) Rodoni should certainly not repeat the mistake, especially with an FPPC file open, nor should he attempt to discredit a reporter.

And Gallegos? As the Journal reported last week, Gallegos admitted he may have erred in the Pedro Martinez-Hernandez case (the molester who is headed for prison for 16 years when there was a chance for a longer sentence). "We don't always make the right decision on cases -- there's just too many decisions to make," he said.

The safest thing for Gallegos to do to avoid making mistakes is to do as little as possible and not go into court. Instead he is following through on his campaign pledge of hands-on court time even though this has been an extraordinary year for him -- first inheriting a staff handpicked by the man he defeated, making the switch from the defendant's side of the aisle and becoming a prosecutor, learning how to run a large county department, and fending off a recall attempt launched just weeks into his four-year term.

Those of us in any job or profession try to make as few mistakes as possible, but we certainly make them. I have a good friend, a nurse, who is my walking partner on weekends. She and I share a rather dark sense of humor. Sometimes she asks me if I libeled anyone this past week.

"No," I say, "And did you kill anyone?"




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