Cal Fire ordered to pay $32 million over court misconduct

Cal FireL.A. Times writer Jeff Gottlieb is reporting today that Cal Fire has been ordered to pay over $32M in legal bills.  Legal bills!  WOW!  From the article:

The judge scolds agency officials for lying and covering up evidence in a lawsuit in which it sought damages for a 65,000-acre fire in Plumas County.

Already under fire for siphoning money into a secret fund, the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has been ordered to pay more than $32 million in legal bills for those it blamed for starting a 65,000-acre forest fire.

In a scathing order, Superior Court Judge Leslie C. Nichols, sitting on assignment in Plumas County, accused the agency of covering up, lying and engaging in “egregious and reprehensible conduct.”

“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.

The sanctions appear to be the largest ever awarded for discovery abuse, according to the forest products company Sierra Pacific Industries, one of the defendants and the largest private property owner in California.

The judge, in an order filed Tuesday, also blasted the attorney general’s office, which represented Cal Fire.

“The sense of disappointment and distress conveyed by the court is so palpable, because it recalls no instance in experience over 47 years as an advocate and as a judge in which the conduct of the attorney general so thoroughly departed from the high standard it represents,” he wrote.

The lawsuit stemmed from a September 2007 fire near Moonlight Peak in Plumas County in northeastern California. State law enables Cal Fire to seek recovery of its suppression costs from those responsible for a fire.

About two years later, Cal Fire filed a suit against Sierra Pacific, a timber harvesting company and several landowners. Cal Fire said that a logger hired by Sierra Pacific started the blaze when his bulldozer hit a rock. The agency asked for $8 million.

But after a three-day hearing last July, the judge dismissed the case, saying that there was not enough evidence to go forward. On Tuesday, the judge announced his sanctions.

You can read the rest of the story HERE.