Staring down at the Times-Standard Op-Ed pages over the last five years, it has often occurred to us that those columns could be vastly improved with the addition of a single exclamation point. Too often the guest opinions do not live up to the section header under which they run. The usual header — "My Word" — conjures up manly visions of fists pounding tables, straight-talking guys and gals calling it like it is. Sounds good, but when your eye scans downward what you generally get are the frightened scribblings of flaks and fussbudgets.
A suggestion? Add the exclamation point. "My Word!" The mental image of a sweating, bonneted Aunt Bea fanning herself to ward off heresy is almost always more apropos. And such was the case on Tuesday, Feb. 5, when former Deputy District Attorney Jeff Schwartz took up pen to scribe an early Valentine's letter to his ex-boss, DA Paul Gallegos. The Schwartz "My Word!" piece was called "Paul Gallegos: The beginning of an era," and it takes to task both the T-Seditorial board and your humble servant for daring to suggest that the final failure, last month, of Gallegos' massive, five-year lawsuit against the Pacific Lumber Co. reflects poorly on the DA.
Before we continue, let's get to the disclosure. Schwartz is the husband of the Journal's "Media Maven" columnist, Marcy Burstiner. I've never met the man, but I'm looking forward to someday doing so. He was supposed to show up at the Journal's Christmas party but the whole family came down with norovirus that day. Just about the only other thing I know about him is that before moving to Humboldt County and becoming a senior prosecutor under Gallegos, he was a San Francisco defense attorney with a website called "YouGoFree.com." That's all in the past, although since stepping down from the District Attorney's office he has hied to his old occupation.
The nut of Schwartz's argument is based on the somewhat tired and dated notion of the "good old boy" network, which Schwartz believes is still working to keep Gallegos down. Why? Because he had the gumption to prosecute members of their tribe.
Have you noticed that the non-historical cases he brought — the cases against Debbie August and Palco, to name two — never got past Humboldt's historical power base (the judiciary, the newspapers and the local law makers) and thus never reached a jury, which would have been made up largely of people who elected him?
I'm not sure what Schwartz means by "non-historical" here ‚Äì failed? — and I'm not quite sure how, as an officer of the court, he can deplore the fact that the judiciary doesn't automatically roll over for whatever strikes Gallegos' fancy. Leave those things aside, though. The more important thing is that Schwartz is flat-out wrong on the facts.
Take the judiciary, one of "Humboldt's historical power bases." But Humboldt County judges have nothing to do with the death of the Palco suit. The appellate court killed it last month on the grounds that it had no basis in law. Neither did the Palco case founder in front of any local judge when it was back in trial court. It's true that Judge Christopher Wilson ruled for Pacific Lumber on an early demurrer, but he gave the DA and his assistant, Tim Stoen, leave to amend the case. And when the case was amended, Stoen fought ‚Äì successfully ‚Äì to have it heard before an out-of-town judge. It was Lake County's Judge Richard Freeborn who threw the case out in superior court, way back in 2005.
So what of Schwartz's charge against that other "power base" — the newspapers? This, sadly, is where Schwartz dissolves into ridiculousness. Every newspaper in Humboldt County ‚Äì even the Eureka Reporter — supported Gallegos' right to bring the suit, and every paper in Humboldt County editorialized strongly against Pacific Lumber's recall drive against the DA. Speaking for our paper, we would certainly do so again. It was dirty and rotten and reduced the rule of law to the level of an Alabamian backwater.
But it's one thing to bring the case and quite another to win it. If our only desire is that Gallegos bring cases against the elite, we would have done as well with any bum standing in the Plaza, ranting about the perfidity of "the corporations." It's even likely that the bum's rhetoric would be zazzier than Gallegos'. But we fear that there is no distinction between effort and accomplishment in the mind of Schwartz, or in the mind of any of the many Gallegos supporters who still look on the man with starry eyes and imagine that he has claimed the county on their behalf. Schwartz writes that Gallegos has many accomplishments in the prosecution of white-collar crime. Sadly, he does not bother to list any.
This isn't to say that Gallegos hasn't achieved positive things. It's easy to make the case that the DA brought some sense to the county's prosecution of marijuana crimes, even if he did so by decriminalizing the drug de facto. It's a strategy that is not without its own consequences, but it's inarguably more sensible than what came before.
Anything else? Schwartz himself listed two high-profile, white-collar cases that Gallegos brought and lost. In the one, he sought $250 million in remedies and in the other he sought the removal from office of a member of the Fortuna City Council. Are there any white-collar cases of as high a profile that Gallegos has won? If so, Schwartz has not remembered them. And so, to date, the man's reputation is more grounded in failure than in success.
With this issue,the Journal is thrilled to launch something that we've been dreaming about for some time. Fiction issue! Since just about the entire staff was out of town last week, we figured that this was a good time to finally get off our butts and do it.
This is something we're going to look to do twice a year from here on in, and who better to launch it than one of the North Coast's greatest chroniclers, our old friend Crawdad Nelson. His "California Improved" is a pitch-perfect tale of lost young folks set in the Arcata of about five years ago, I'm guessing. It's an honor to print it.
Tell us what you think. Fiction issue? No fiction issue? Favorite author you'd like us to hound? One warning: If all you have to say is "I thought every issue was fiction issue!" take note that we've already heard it 100 times.
Correction:Last week's story on four California ballot measures related to Indian gaming — "Does the House Always Win?" — misstated the number of additional slot machines that one tribe would be allowed upon passage of the initiative. In fact, the San Manuel Band would be able to run 5,500 extra machines, not 7,500 as stated in the article. The Journal regrets the error.