Eureka, CA - Two years ago on my birthday, I was sitting 150 feet up a 1,200 year-old redwood, where I had been for ten months without touching the ground. It was January 3, 2003, and I was watching redwood forest on the hillside below me getting cut down by Maxxam's Pacific Lumber (PL). |
This year on my birthday, I went to court for a hearing in the lawsuit brought against me and about 30 others for the crime of watching and opposing PL's destructive clear-cutting, (or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as in the case of some of my co-defendants). Five of us have filed counter lawsuits against PL, and the extractors who forcibly removed us from ancient trees PL intended to (and in most cases, did) cut down.
The issue before the court on Monday was whether it was lawful for Brian Carter, attorney for the extractors, to disqualify Judge W. Bruce Watson. The move to disqualify came just two days after a Dec. 6 hearing in front of Judge Watson, who indicated he would grant permission for citizens sued by PL to file counter-lawsuits. Defendant Kim Starr, who was named in the suit following a 2002 protest near the logging-ravaged Van Duzen River, argued the move to disqualify Judge Watson was "disingenuous," especially following Carter's readiness to present arguments before Judge Watson at the contentious Dec. 6 hearing. "Judge shopping is not okay," Starr told Judge Dale Reinholtsen, who presided over the Monday hearing.
Daniel Kosmal, attorney for two counter-suing treesitters, also argued against the disqualification. Describing the case as "long-cause" and "complex", Mr. Kosmal argued that the Supreme Court recognizes it is a waste of time and resources to educate every new judge on complex cases such as this one, which now includes approximately 40 parties. After having the case briefly assigned to his courtroom, Judge Christopher Wilson described the case file as having "grown to eight volumes" and has "pending in excess of twenty motions." The time it would take for a new judge to get familiar with the case and prepared to decide crucial issues before the court - namely whether PL, Maxxam, and hired hands who forcibly remove non-violent activists from trees - will have to answer the cross-complaints filed against them by treesitters.
Mr. Carter, speaking on behalf of the extractors, contends he is just trying to "level the playing field." He asserts Judge Watson has a prejudice against extractor Jesse Bawcum, but did not offer a reason for this argument.
Several other Humboldt County judges have already been disqualified, or have voluntarily recused themselves from the case.
Judge Reinholtsen, who currently hears family court cases, may be the last judge in Humboldt County who could hear the case in the event the disqualification of Judge Watson is not stricken. Judge Reinholtsen disclosed at the beginning of the hearing his previous ties to the law firm representing PL - Mitchell, Brisso, Delaney and Vrieze - where he was a partner before becoming a judge in 1996. However, he said PL was not a client of the firm at that time. Judge Reinholtsen added he did not work with current PL attorney, Russell Gans, who joined the Mitchell-Brisso firm after Judge Reinholtsen was appointed to the bench.
Admitting it was unlikely that a ruling would be issued before the January 10th hearing already scheduled, all parties present at the hearing agreed to vacate the date for now, and will await a final decision on who will be the judge.