This article was published in Today’s Sacramento Bee regarding Superior Court Judge Leslie Nichols’ order for Cal Fire and the State of California to pay $30 million to Sierra Pacific Industries for damages related to the 2007 Moonlight Fire. I’ve posted the first several paragraphs; the link to the complete article follows.
Judge orders Cal Fire to pay $30 million for ‘reprehensible conduct’ in Moonlight fire case
By Denny Walsh and Sam Stanton
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 – 9:41 pm
In a blistering ruling against Cal Fire, a judge in Plumas County has found the agency guilty of “egregious and reprehensible conduct” in its response to the 2007 Moonlight fire and ordered it to pay more than $30 million in penalties, legal fees and costs to Sierra Pacific Industries and others accused in a Cal Fire lawsuit of causing the fire.
The ruling is the latest twist in an epic legal battle that began not long after the fire erupted on Labor Day 2007, scorching more than 65,000 acres in Plumas and Lassen counties.
Sierra Pacific, the largest private landowner in California, was blamed by state and federal officials for the blaze, with a key report finding it was started by a spark from the blade of a bulldozer belonging to a company working under contract for Sierra Pacific.
But company officials have steadfastly denied responsibility and have accused the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the U.S. Forest Service of conspiring to cover up their own shortcomings that allowed the fire to rage out of control.
Even after Sierra Pacific agreed to settle a federal lawsuit over the devastation in two national forests by paying $55 million in cash and handing over 22,500 acres of land to the government, the company insisted it was undone by an erroneous ruling of U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, and then was a victim of stonewalling by Cal Fire in that agency’s Plumas County suit, including the alleged withholding of thousands of pages of key internal documents relevant to the legal struggle.
In a 28-page order issued Tuesday, retired Superior Court Judge Leslie C. Nichols essentially agreed with all of Sierra Pacific’s points, adopting a separate, 57-page order proposed by Sierra Pacific and the other defendants almost word-for-word, and excoriating the behavior of Cal Fire and two lawyers from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, which represented the agency.
“The court finds that Cal Fire’s actions initiating, maintaining and prosecuting this action, to the present time, is corrupt and tainted,” the judge wrote. “Cal Fire failed to comply with discovery obligations, and its repeated failure was willful.”
The agency withheld documents for months, “destroyed evidence critical (to the case) … and engaged in a systematic campaign of misdirection with the purpose of recovering money from (Sierra Pacific).”
(Click link below for remainder of the article.)
Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.