Government attorneys try to remove Sierra Pacific attorneys off the Moonlight Fire case

Moonlight Fire
Moonlight Fire as viewed from Highway 36 on the first day, Sept. 3, 2007. Wikipedia.

Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice have asked for the lawyers representing Sierra Pacific to be removed from the case about the responsibility for the Moonlight Fire, alleging unlawful and unethical tactics. CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service claimed the company was responsible for starting the fire that burned about 65,000 acres in 2007 (map), including 46,000 acres in the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in the northern part of the state.

Below is an excerpt from an opinion article in the New York Observer:

EXCLUSIVE: Those who dared expose government corruption in the Moonlight Fire case have just been met with a furious motion to disqualify all counsel and everyone who has even read the affidavit of former Assistant United States Attorney E. Robert Wright.

David Shelledy, Civil Division Chief for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of California and new counsel to the case, Matthew Segal, have moved to disqualify all of the defense attorneys for Sierra Pacific and related defendants in the now infamous “Moonlight Fire” case. Ironically, Mr. Shelledy himself is the one who should be disqualified—from representing the government—if not disbarred. Mr. Shelledy is squarely implicated in the unethical and possibly criminal government misconduct he seeks to hide.

The Department of Justice through the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California extracted a $55 Million settlement from Sierra Pacific following a massive civil prosecution blaming the timber company for a wildfire that destroyed thousands of acres of forest land. The agreement also required Sierra Pacific to give the government 22,500 acres of land.

Sierra Pacific, which has always maintained it did not start the fire, was complying with the federal settlement while also dealing with litigation against it in the California state courts. In the state case, California Judge Leslie Nichols entered a blistering order in February, awarding $32 million in attorneys’ fees to Sierra Pacific and imposed the ultimate sanction—termination of the case. He found that the state agency, Cal Fire, “withheld some documents, destroyed other evidence and ‘engaged in a systematic campaign of misdirection with the purpose of recovering money’ from Sierra Pacific.”

Judge Nichols’ fiery order caught the attention of former Assistant United States Attorney E. Robert Wright, who felt compelled to come forward. Turns out that Mr. Wright had been the lead Assistant United States Attorney and filed the case against Sierra Pacific—until his superior, Civil Division head David Shelledy removed him from the case after they had a dispute about a clear ethical rule that requires the government to disclose evidence adverse to the government’s case to the defense attorneys in another fire case…

Other articles about the latest developments in the Moonlight Fire litigation:

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

8 thoughts on “Government attorneys try to remove Sierra Pacific attorneys off the Moonlight Fire case”

  1. The largest single deposit to the WiFiter “slush fund” was from SDG&E/Sempra Energy’s payment to CalFire for causing the Witch Creek/Guejito/Rice fires just a month after Moonlight Fire. Same corruption, just a different twist. Feds were paid $30 Million, but never even filed lawsuit. Clearly, arcing to blame, so hard to get out of that. Next best thing? Assist Defendants by coming up with a cause and origin report that assists Defendants in never really paying anything at all- an “Act of God” analysis that can be blamed on wind, clearing the way for Defendants to pass it on to the consumer in the form of higher electric rates, an application not yet made but soon. Largest mass tort in CA history – 6,500 individual Plaintiffs ( not including insurer and government Plaintiffs). Apparently as of this post, only 4 plaintiffs left. Couple this with compliant Plaintiffs Counsel Group who assisted in engineering all to go through a coercive, biased mediation process and even agreed not to depose key witnesses. Relevant depos show author of CalFire Cause and Origin Report specifically led to area Defendants decided fire started. See Mr. Clark is like Mr. Wright and Judge Nichols- just telling the truth. What has driven all of this, really? The elephant in the room – real cause of the 2003 Cedar Fire. There should be a conflict of interest in CalFire being allowed to investigate anything where they will directly benefit from the outcome, especially when so much at stake. Firefighters who put their lives in danger to put these fires out deserve better- and so does every single American.

  2. Why did CAL FIRE investigate this fire? It started on PNF DPA. Per the CFMA it should have been investigated by the agency with Direct Protection Responsibilities, the PNF.

        1. PNF has suppression responsibility, private land investigated by CALFIRE. I believe both agencies were investigating from origin and beyond…

  3. Well worth the read on this lawsuit and Cal-Fires illegal SLUSH FUND!

    Excerpt below from the article; “Judge blasts ‘corrupt’ Cal Fire on wildfire lawsuit”

    “Superior Court Judge Leslie Nichols this month ruled that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection repeatedly deceived and withheld evidence in a lawsuit seeking $8.1 million from a company and several landowners for a wildfire that the company did not cause. The judge further found that $400,000 of that money was slated for an illegal Cal Fire slush fund. Cal Fire was represented by Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office. ”

    I wonder if the Cal Fire annual fee of $150.00 to homeowners in the state also goes into this slush fund?


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