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:
- Fox News: Why every American should care about California’s Moonlight fire case
- Sacramento Bee (Nov. 18, and Nov. 24)