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February 25, 2015     Feather River Bulletin
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February 25, 2015

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2A Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015 Feather River Bulletin Federal prosecutors deny Moonlight cover-up Sam Stanton The Sacramento Bee Federal prosecutors in Sacramento have launched a blistering new attack on Sierra Pacific Industries and its lawyers, accusing the timber giant of"deceptior" and "scandal mongering" in its efforts to reverse a $100 million settlement it agreed to pay over the 2007 Moonlight fire, which burned huge swaths of the Plumas and Lassen national forests. In more than 3,500 pages of court filings made late Tuesday, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento rejected claims by Sierra Pacific that it was the victim of fraud and corruption by government officials who eventually gained a massive cash and property settlement in 2012 from the company, which was blamed for starting the ffTxe. "In the seven years since the fn'e, Sierra Pacifm has devoted itself tirelessly to avoiding responsibility, employing a campaign of scandal mongering and unscrupulous legal tactics which continues to this day," says a 127-page legal brief filed in U.S. District Court by U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner's office. The government contends Sierra Pacific's efforts to overturn the settlement "lack integrity" and are based on false accusations, and that the company "only pretended to settle" the lawsuit it faced. "This is professional misconduct of the worst kind," the government brief states. The filings are the latest development in an epic legal battle that has been waged for years between the government and Sierra Pacific, the state's largest private landowner. Investigators blamed a bulldozer operator for sparking the blaze on Labor Day 2007 when the machine's blade hit a rock. The operator was an employee of a logging ., .....  company doing work for Sierra Pacific, and federal prosecutors sued the company to recoup the costs of damage and firefighting efforts to stop the blaze, which raged for two weeks and burned 65,000 acres. Sierra Pacific eventually agreed to a settlement that called for it to pay $47 million to the federal government and hand over 22,500 acres of land. But the Shasta County company has steadfastly denied responsibility and for three years fought the 2009 lawsuit federal officials filed against it. The fLrm agreed to the settlement in 2012 after losing a critical court ruling, but insisted the fight was not over. Last.October, Sierra Pacific filed court papers accusing prosecutors of misconduct and unethical behavior in prosecuting the civil suit and said the settlement should be overturned because of "fraud upon the court." Among the claims made by Sierra Pacific are allegations that a veteran assistant U.S. attorney, E. Robert Wright, was forced out of his lead role in the case after he refused to "engage In unethical conduct as a lawyer." Wright filed a declaration for Sierra Pacific in which he said he was removed from the case and replaced by a prosecutor with no previous experience in wildland fire cases. Wagner's office described a different set of circumstances, saying Wright's departure from the office "embittered him enough to switch sides in violation of his duty of loyalty to the United States." "They try to create the impression thatWright is a celebrated veteran of the U.S. Attorney's office, who received nothing but praise for his work," the' government's brief states. "But in fact, his work was of mediocre quality and it was for this reason the Moonlight : fire case was assigned to another attorney at the pleading stage, before discovery commenced." " Wright, who retired in December 2010 at age 66, disputed the government's claims, saying in a telephone interview with The Sacramento Bee that he had a duty to come forward with claims of wrongdoing, "and I did not lose that duty when I left the government." "My comment is simply that we have officials who are supposed to be diligently and honestly representing the U.S. government who are actually lying in papers they are filing with the court, and making up stuff five years after the fact," Wright said. William Warne, an attorney for Sierra Pacific, said the company is "focused on getting the truth out and obtaining justice, nothing else." The company has been fightIng over the true cause of the fire almost from the beginning, and claims it is the victim of a fraudulent report and lies told under oath by Investigators for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the U.S. Forest Service. In 2014, the company won a legal battle over the fire when a judge ruled in a separate lawsuit against Sierra Pacific in Plumas County that Cal Fire was guilty of "egregious and reprehensible conduct" in its probe of the fire. That judge ordered the state to pay more than $32 million in penalties to Sierra Pacific and other defendants. Judge Leslie C. Nichols, who retired from the Santa Clara Superior Court bench in 2009 and was sitting on special assignment in the case, said the state withheld documents and destroyed evidence in a bid to recover money from Sierra Pacific. Cal Fire has appealed the ruling, and federal officials said in their filings Tuesday that the judge's order "was written by Sierra Pacific's lawyers, who submitted 57 pages of proposed findIngs with no citations to supporting evidence." "Sierra Pacifm'slawyers even took the liberty of telling the county judge his inner feelIngs, writing in a footnote that he was 'deeply troubled...'" by evidence presented in a deposition, according to the government's brief. The accusations and warfare have been closely watched by some of Sacramento's most prominent attorneys, and the U.S. attorney himself filed an eight-page declaration Tuesday stating that "ensuring that all attorneys in this office observe the highest standards of ethics and professionalism is very important to me." Wagner also noted that Sierra Pacifm retained two of his predecessors, former U.S. Attorneys George O'Connell and McGregor Scott, and that they had paid him a visit in March 2012 to discuss the case. "I had hoped that they wanted to talk abo.ut a potential settlement, but instead they wanted to make a pitch as to why I should dismiss the case," Wagner wrote. Wagner's office claimed in the brief filed Tuesday that allegations it withheld any evidence In the case were meritless and that more than 130 witnesses provided depositions, some of whom were questioned for weeks. "In what must be one of the most over-discovered cases ever in this district, the United States produced over 265,000 pages of documents in response to more than a thousand requests for production," the brief states. Editor's note. This story is . published with permission from The Sacramento Bee. The Bee's Sam Stanton may be reached at 916-321-1091. FRC readies application process for new trustee James Wilson Staff Writer At last week's Feather River College board of trustees meeting, President Kevin Trutna urged the board to act soon in finding a new trustee. Leah West announced her resignation during the January meeting, telling the board her last day presiding would be March 19. According to board policies, a 60-day process to find a new trustee ,would begin once a resignation is officially turned in to the county Office of Education. If West's last day is March 19, 62 days will have passed by the May meeting, leaving the board little time to find a replacement. Trutna suggested at the Feb. 19 meetIng that the board fill the vacancy through a provisional appointment process. "The process is the board has 60 days to appoint a provisional trustee or to hold an election," Trutna said. "And elections are timely and expensive." The board decided to appoint a provisional trustee based on letters of interest. The next day, application forms for the vacant position were posted on the college website. Prospective candidates must be registered voters in Plumas County and residents of District 1, which covers mostly Graeagle and Portola. Experience serving as a member of a policy board and an understandIng of the California community college system is recommended. Applications can be found by going to and clicking on "Administration," then "Board of Trustees." Slight fee increase Upon the recommendation of Feather River College Chief Financial Officer Jim Scoubes, the board approved a new schedule of fees, effective starting with the fall semester. Not too much changed from the current fee schedule. Enrollment for most students will remain at $46 per unit. Students from out of state will see a slight increase, however. Out-of-state tuition will increase from $194 per unit for 3.5 or more uits to $201er unit for 4 or more units. The only .other change was in the transportation fee. The fee will increase from $1 per unit to $1.50 per unit. The fee can only be used for transportation, and is paid to Plumas Transit. Chief Student Services Officer Karen Pierson filled the board in on the number of students that utilize the county bus system. "They average around 500 a month out to Indian Valley, and about that much towards Portola," Pierson said. "They tell us we're the biggest ridership in the county." School of smarties Trutna spent time in his monthly report to the trustees highlighting the academic achievements of several of the college's student-athletes. The volleyball team earned a 3.57 grade-point average last semester, the highest average among all volleyball programs and second highest of all sports in the state, The team kept a high GPA while powering through the playoffs to the state semifinals. The California Community College Athletic Association also named Feather River College baseball as its Baseball Scholar Team for 2014. The team carried a 3.17 GPA while winning the Golden Valley Conference : j :'- championship. : ?: , ,- State of the art MRI, CT, Digital Mammo, & Ultrasound- Safe, accurate, Io00l. Call your doctor For into & appointments: Portola Medical Clinic: 832.6600 Loyalton Medical Clinic: 993.1231 Graeagle Medical Clinic: 836.1122 Indian Valley Medical Clinic: 284.6116 WWW.EPHC.ORG i CONFUSED? 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