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Off The Record (Mar 26, 2014)

A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER named Jonathan Hayes of Sacramento has filed a $100k-plus claim against Mendocino County for the injuries his client, Gregory Bergman, suffered from being shot by former Mendocino Deputy District Attorney Damon Gardner. According to the claim, “Mendocino County District Attorney Damon Gardner was under the influence when he shot Gregory Bergman with a concealed weapon. He was in Sacramento attending a legal seminar believed to be done as part of his job as a District Attorney. … Injury: Gunshot wound to the abdomen. Amount Claimed: In excess of $100,000.”

THE SHOOTING occurred last October 17, 2013 at 15th and L Streets in Sacramento. Bergman's claim against the County of Mendocino isn't likely to go anywhere. Gardner was not attending any legal or training seminar at the direction of the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office in October, 2013. The only DA staff member authorized to be in Sacramento on official business was Ms. Khoury, Gardner's companion when a pair of sidewalk mopes directed ungentlemanly remarks at her. Gardner gallantly objected and soon found himself being pummeled and kicked by both mopes, one of whom, Gregory Bergman, Gardner shot in the stomach. Who can rationally blame Gardner? All it takes is one well-placed kick to the head and it's bye-bye baby for the recipient.

SACRAMENTO AUTHORITIES also saw the episode from the self-defense perspective and declined to prosecute. The injured mope is left with his only possible recourse being heavily insured County of Mendocino.


THE DA's office didn't know Gardner was in Sacramento at the same time as Ms. Khoury, and Gardner certainly wasn't there on County business. For two months prior to the shooting, Gardner was away from the office on a medical leave, claiming he was too ill to do his job.

OF COURSE GARDNER wasn't too sick to rendezvous with the comely Ms. Khoury, who was indeed visiting the capitol city under the auspices of the DA's office. But then alluring women have been known to raise elderly men from their deathbeds, and Gardner is a young man.

ONLY TWO REAL QUESTIONS about the episode: Why is a Deputy DA wandering around with a concealed weapon and, Why does Mendocino hand out concealed weapons permits to anybody who successfully completes the simple application process? DA Eyster has put a stop to his employees carrying guns, but almost any other functioning psycho can get one through the Sheriff's Office.

AH, CHECK THAT. An on-line commenter rightly points out that Mendo's concealed weapons permitting process isn't as simple as I've described it, and it is unlikely a psycho could negotiate it, assuming, of course, that all the ranchers and Rotarians who do get them aren't psychos, always a dubious assumption. I do agree, and all you libs may want to step out of the room for this one, that given the unhinged times, and given that many of us rustics live a half hour to an hour away from an officer of the law, possession of a gun seems only sensible. I have several myself, but I don't have a concealed weapons permit. I keep them at home. Mostly. Potential assassins will have to guess when I don't have one with me, hastening to add that I'm not a gun fetish guy, a Guns and Ammo guy, a guy who spends hours gazing at his guns, tidying his guns, fondling his guns, loving his guns. I see no point in assault rifles and other essentially military weaponry. A shotgun is all you need to repel the intruder, and a handgun is all you need if you're hiking around Spy Rock or Bell Springs Road or a Pinot tasting. And I have a kind of authorization from none other than the late DA, Norm Vroman, who told me once, "Bruce, if there's one person in this county who should have a gun, it's you." Yeah, yeah. But newspaper people get threatened all the time; it comes with the job. The phone rings. "You've gone too far. This time you get it." Click. Gotten lots of those over the years. But if someone really wants you gone, they're not making midnight nut calls or leaving anon notes, they're going to do it. And all the guns in the world won't stop them from getting you gone.

JUST SAYIN'… In all the hosannas about National Monument status for the Stornetta property near Point Arena, it's seldom mentioned that the Stornettas cleared $6 mil on the deal. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for eco-setasides, and in this country the only way to preserve anything is to pay for it, and the Stornettas got paid. Big time.


MENDOCINO COUNTY has a new, albeit “interim” retirement administrator who introduced himself to the Board of Supervisors last Tuesday, March 11: “I’m Tom Watson. I’ve been hired recently as the interim retirement administrator for the Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association. I’m retired from the Stanislaus County Employees Retirement Association where I was administrator for the last seven years of my career. Apparently a need arose with Rich White retiring at the end of February and not having a full-time administrator yet on board to hire me on a temporary basis and this morning I happened to notice your county maps in the back [of the Supervisors chambers] which were donated by Al Beltrami and he apparently was the interim chief executive officer. I met him in Stanislaus County as the interim chief executive officer there and got to interact with him, a very pleasant interaction. He was a great man. Hopefully now Stanislaus can return the favor by using me from Stanislaus County as the interim retirement administrator for Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association.”

MR. WATSON’S pre-retirement tenure in Stanislaus County generated a lot of controversy when Stanislaus County found itself in a bad fiscal situation in 2009 similar to the one Mendocino County faced. Basically, and as in Mendo, it involved the allocation of non-existent “excess earnings” to cover retiree health insurance. Stanislaus County (specifically Mr. Watson) had employed the dubious services of Buck Consultants as their actuary, even though Buck Consultants used what an audit subsequently called “flawed assumptions” which put Stanislaus County into serious financial problems.

MENDO subsequently fired Buck Consultants in the wake of Buck’s problems in Stanislaus County, and Buck’s insurance company had to pay a big fine to Mendo for the same sleight of financial hand they pulled in Stanislaus. At that time (back around 2010) current Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association trustee John Sakowicz called Buck consultants “a sham actuary” and urged that the Retirement board fire them. Sako was correct.

THE IRONY is that here’s the guy from Stanislaus County who hired Buck Consultants for Stanislaus County rehired by the same Mendo Retirement Board that Sakowicz now sits on.

ROUND AND ROUND she goes while Boards of Supervisors and Retirement Boards smile blandly at each other and hand over major hourly consulting rates to “flawed” administrators like Watson who approved Buck’s “flawed assumptions” but manage to elude responsibility. For more on the Stanislaus County fiasco (if you can stay awake long enough to review it) go to John Dickerson’s collection of Modesto Bee articles on the subject at:

STILL NO DEFINITE word on negotiations between the College of the Redwoods and Mendocino College for Mendo College to assume responsibility for fall classes at COR's former Fort Bragg campus.

THE UKIAH CITY COUNCIL vs The Ukiah Daily Journal's three redwoods has resulted in a compromise. The Journal has agreed to spare two of the trees, mercy-kill the ailing third. The newspaper has also agreed to nurse the two remaining trees back to full health. The trees are at least a hundred years old. Revenge is a lot older.....

THE STORY behind this story is the obvious desire by vengeful persons in Ukiah City government to hassle the paper over the trees because those vengeful persons are unhappy with the Journal's often biting descriptions of their incompetent functioning.

THERE ARE TREES all over Ukiah that could be described as potentially menacing, but City Manager Jane Chambers and the ineffable council person, Mary Ann Landis, as always supported by the triply ineffable councilman, Little Benj Thomas, says the Journal's trees are somehow more menacing.


COMMENT OF THE WEEK: Who are the real victims? — Several recent commentaries contend that affirmative action is wrong because historical discrimination shouldn't be assumed to adversely affect its targets' lives or opportunities. You can confront the critics with a mile-long list of indignities and roadblocks that disproportionately or exclusively affect certain minority races' lack of educational resources, mistrust or harassment by law enforcement, harsher treatment by the courts, second-guessing of professional competence, and psychological inheritance of centuries of official second-class citizenship. Yet if you suggest that these might actually have a negative impact on someone's opportunity or drive, you're accused of belittling their abilities and creating a culture of victimhood. If minorities are determined enough, none of these obstacles should impede them. So why won't these conservatives demand that same resilience from the whites or Asians who, they insist, would be victims of reverse discrimination under affirmative action policies? When an applicant insists that race-conscious policies cost him the chance to get into college, why don't they just respond, “Oh, come on, that shouldn't stop you. Don't take on a victim mentality.” — Reed Fromer, San Rafael

A MIRACLE HAS OCCURRED. Several Bay Area subscribers have written to say they received last Wednesday's paper the following day, a Thursday. This is the first time in months, maybe even years, we've enjoyed the one-day service we pay massively for. I suspect, though, it might be a trap, a kind of postal water torture. The paper gets here in a day this week, next week it arrives, if it arrives, seven days later. And so on. We live in hope.

HERE COME MORE LAWYERS! The City of Ukiah employs a lawyer, but the City will hire a second one to beat back the suit filed by Ukiah Citizens for Safety First that says the Costco proposed for the town's row of big box stores “will create dangerous traffic conditions on Highway 101.” Which it undoubtedly will, given present traffic configurations in that area where traffic is already often bolloxed as shoppers stream to Walmart and the many other mega-stores, fast food emporiums, the existing service station complex, and the several motels confined to within about a half mile of each other south of Ukiah. Plunk down a Costco and traffic is certain to metastasize.

THE CITY'S LEGAL EAGLE, David Rapport, will be reinforced by Costco's attorneys, but apparently Ukiah doesn't think they've lawyered up enough. The City has hired a third attorney to “protect” its interests. This person is allegedly skilled at defending environmental impact reports or, in this case, flawed environmental impact reports. She has apparently agreed not to soak the City more than $30,000.

THE CITIZEN'S GROUP will probably be beaten into submission by Ukiah's trio of attorneys simply because they won't have the money to resist them in the local courts.

GREAT MOMENTS IN PUBLIC RADIO: Michael Kisslinger's question to Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde on Kisslinger's “Give & Take” Show, KZYX, Thursday, March 20, 2014: “OK, maintaining the roads is important, but, I guess my question is, Why is it important? And by that I mean— you were talking about taking the long term view — I also think it's important to take the bigger view and especially when you're in a government situation or like the Board of Supervisors — when I worked with non-profit boards they often used an example of if you have a line item for gasoline and it suddenly spikes, I don't think it's right for the board of directors of that organization to be arguing about whether or not they're buying their gas at 76 or Arco. Instead they should be asking, Why are we using gasoline? You know, should we be switching to bicycles? Or whatever fits our mission? So I guess what I'm saying is, fixing the roads is important, but then what? You know, what is that— once we have the roads that are up and running, what are we going to do with them? I mean, besides live on them?” Gjerde's calm reply: “If you can't do the fundamentals, how can you take on the important projects?”


THE SAN FRANCISCO DA won't file charges in the stabbing death of Johnathan Denver, 24, of Fort Bragg. DA Gascon said he was not confident that Denver's assailant, Michael Montgomery, did not act in self-defense when he stabbed Denver after a Giants-Dodger game several blocks from the ballpark at Third and Harrison.

INTERVIEWS with witnesses and several participants in the fatal, alcohol-fueled fight the night of September 25th, determined that Denver and his brother had attacked Montgomery before he used a knife to protect himself.

DENVER had left a Giants-Dodgers game that night with his father and brother in the eighth inning to go to a bar. They encountered Montgomery and his friends in the South of Market neighborhood about 11:30pm. One of Montgomery's friends was wearing a Giants cap.

THE TWO PARTIES argued about the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, and that childish back and forth soon became a brawl. The police report says Denver's group was drunk while Montgomery's was loaded on marijuana.

MONTGOMERY was booked into county jail on suspicion of homicide, but he was released two days later when prosecutors concluded there was not enough evidence to file charges. Denver had died soon after the fight in the emergency room of San Francisco General Hospital.

SIX MONTHS LATER, prosecutors said the circumstances have changed but charges will still not be filed. Gascón explained that in California, prosecutors not only have to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt, but they also have to prove the defendant did not act in “lawful self-defense.” The facts, so far as they could be determined, found that prosecutors would not be able to prove that Montgomery had not acted in self-defense.

THE DENVER BROTHERS, collectively, weighed about 150 pounds more than Montgomery, and that they had both jumped Montgomery who brandished a bottle to ward them off. Denver's brother soon grabbed an aluminum chair, featuring a Dodgers logo, and hit Montgomery on the head with it. Montgomery dropped the bottle and stabbed Denver, who had been punching him during the assault, witnesses said.

“WITH MULTIPLE SOURCES indicating how the event transpired, it makes it impossible for us to meet our burden and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Montgomery was not acting in self-defense,” Gascón said in a statement. “We are ethically obligated to decline to prosecute this case.”

PROSECUTORS came to this conclusion after investigators reinterviewed “all percipient witnesses, including members of Mr. Montgomery's group, Mr. Denver's group and independent witnesses,” Gascón said. Especially key, Gascon said, was the reinterview of Denver's brother.

“OUR HEARTS go out to the victim's family,” Gascón said. “The loss of a loved one in this manner is indeed tragic.”

JILL HARO, Denver's aunt, said Friday that she was disappointed in the decision and had been reaching out to the district attorney's office for four weeks to no avail. The past six months have been difficult for the family, especially for Denver's father and brother, who watched him die, Haro said.

I STOPPED going to night games a couple of years ago. The ballpark itself is well-managed, but out on the streets after the games the yobbos rule, and there's so many of them that the cops, of necessity, go into triage mode, responding only to the stuff they see as life-threatening.

Escareno (2007)
Escareno (2007)

MENDO JUDGE Cindee Mayfield ruled Friday that Marcos Diaz-Escareno of Point Arena-Manchester, will not be packed off to adult prison. DA David Eyster had argued that Diaz-Escareno's original, juvenile court, sentence for manslaughter was flawed, that by law the kid should have been sentenced as an adult. Judge Mayfield, however, pointed out that Escareno, 14 at the time he shot and killed Enoc Cruz, 21, had served the sentence in the Youth Authority that the late judge, Ron Brown, had meted out, and to jerk him out of Point Arena to state prison, well, that would defy even Mendo reason.

DIAZ-ESCARENO was, nevertheless, placed on adult parole by Judge Mayfield, meaning that if he violates his youth parole he will be sent to big boy prison for a year. And if he commits another felony crime, his murder of Cruz will count as a strike under the Three Strikes law.

THE 2007 shooting death of Cruz occurred on the Manchester-Point Arena Rancheria. Cruz had allegedly been mistreating Escareno-Diaz's sister when, in a drunken stupor, Escareno- Diaz shot Cruz to death.

AFTER Diaz-Escareno had been released and was happily at home in Point Arena, Eyster re-opened the matter, arguing that the gravity of the crime should have resulted in a sentence under adult legal auspices, although young people who get sentenced to adult prison do their time in age-appropriate facilities, at least in California. In the more primitive areas of the country, underage criminals do their time with the adults.

READING ABOUT the most recent meltdown at the Pacifica radio stations got me thinking about the media I'd really, really miss if it disappeared. There's only one whose loss I'd lament, and we'll get to it. The Pacifica stations have long been a playground for straight-up crackpots. Dr. Gary Null? Are you kidding? Larry Bensky was the last smart person involved at KPFA on a regular basis. Tuning in the station at random these days is like listening in on a back ward somewhere. Tell me, to whom, at this point, is KPFA indispensible as a place to hear smart talk? For that, and smart talk has never been much in demand, you've got to go to Michael Krazny at KQED Radio out of San Francisco; he's been the sole proprietor of intelligent talk radio for years now. When he goes, talk radio is over. KPFA was over a decade ago. The loons won.

I WOULDN'T MISS television if it disappeared because I don't watch anything on it, not even sports. Radio sportscasts are, for me, a superior way to take in a Giants or a Niners game because the play by play people are so much better at it than the tv drones. And I don't need the visuals because the Bay Area sports people are so good at describing what has happened. Like lots of people, I do watch those brilliant HBO series like The Wire, Breaking Bad and Deadwood, which are anyway obtainable through Netflicks. I watch those on a tv screen, the only use I have for the thing.

AS AN ASIDE, I came late to The Wire. I watched the very first episode and wasn't grabbed by it. I was also reluctant to watch a drama pegged to black crime, because black people, in real life, are vilified every day as CRIME IN AMERICA, with Mexicans running a strong second these days. It isn't true, and it isn't fair. Now that I'm into The Wire, though, it seems beyond brilliant to me. And honest. And totally fair.

THERE'S NOTHING on the internet which, if it were suddenly gone, would cause me to slap on a mourning armband. Out of necessity anymore I have to do stuff on computers all day, and my eyes feel like they're bleeding. Just the other day, a little kid wandered in to the office and asked me why I was crying! Techno-tears, my dear. These things are like staring into the sun.

I'D MISS the Chronicle, partly because I've read it for 60 years, partly because a few times a week the reporting on the Bay Area is quite good, as is some of the commentary. I could live without The New Yorker and there are no literary mags that I'm aware of that are any good, certainly not at $8-$15 a pop. The New Yorker is consistently about one for four; one in four has something good in it. The old Grand Street was wonderful. The new Grand Street isn't. I've never much read the New York Times for the same reason I don't listen to NPR — they're both at severe odds with the reality I know, and I have no interest in that reality except its destruction. And the smug voices of the NPR announcers makes me want to run out and garrotte the Fort Bragg City Council.

FOR ALL THE SELF-DESCRIBED writers there are in the SF Bay Area and NorCal, the combined literary output isn't even as interesting as a newspaper — any newspaper. Bay Area journalism (and KPFA) peaked in the late 1960s, and it's rolled steadily downhill since. Rolling Stone is worth the price of admission for Matt Taibbi alone, but otherwise of zero interest to a non-rocker like me.

THE LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS is my must read. I've subscribed to it and the New York Review of Books for many years, but prefer the London Review because it's politically more independent than the New York Review, which I think is way too Clintonian in its coverage of economics and contemporary events and American political figures. The London Review presents a much more eclectic collection of interesting stuff, much of it with real bite, although LBR's lit-crit is much too abstruse for this particular autodidact. The recent piece by O'Hagan called Ghosting Julian Assange would never appear in any American publication at the length the LBO presented it. But in every issue, even in the articles far beyond one's intellectual ken, there will be some fascinating piece of information, some riveting vignette, such as this one from the current issue:

“…A PREGNANT WOMAN came to my clinic. She hadn't felt her baby move for a day or so, and wanted me to reassure her by listening for its heartbeat. Normal stethoscopes are no use for listening to the heartbeat of a baby in the womb; the sound is too fast, quiet and high-pitched. Midwives often use an electronic Doppler probe to find the foetal heart, but I used a modified tube called a Pinard stethoscope, like an old-fashioned ear trumpet, wedged between one ear and the swollen contour of the woman's belly. The best place to lay the trumpet end is where you think you've felt the convex curve of the baby's spine. Even with one finger in my other year it took a while to find the heart — an agonizing couple of minutes for the mother. But there it was: a rhapsodic, syncopated interleaving of her heartbeat with her baby's. The fetal heartbeat was distinct, fluttering fast like a bird over the oceanic swell of the mother's pulse, an allegro played over an adagio. I paused for a moment listening to the two rhythms within one, two lives within one body.” — Gavin Francis

CONGRESSMAN HUFFMAN has replaced local reps Heidi Dickerson and Christine Anderson with a pair of young, Spanish-speaking women, Heather Gurewitz and Roseanne Ibarra. Huffman also took editorial credit in Sunday's Ukiah Daily Journal for the Stornetta National Monument set aside near Point Arena. Ms. Ibarra comes to her job with the blandly do-nothing, stand for nothing congressman from Mendocino County's equivalently bankrupt, Ukiah-based First Five non-profit, a cigarette tax-funded jobs program for Ukiah-area liberals affiliated with the Northcoast Democratic Party.

FULL PAGE PUFFAROO on Point Arena in the Sunday Chron's travel section. The piece, by veteran travel writer John Flinn, is called, “Sleepy town ready for fresh attraction — Spectacular tract of land on coast now open to public.”

GIVEN the incidence of crank use in the fog belt, Point Arena doesn't sleep much, but it is a pretty little town with a couple of good restaurants and, of course, with or without Monument Status, it's got those unsurpassed vistas of sea and cypress.

THE BRIT CONSERVATIVE PARTY currently in power has offered two million families $3,317 in cash help for each child in the family. The dispute? The libs of the Labor Party want more. I ask you, can you even imagine this happening here?


CRIME OF THE WEEK. On Tuesday, March 18th, at 7:35 pm Ukiah Police responded to the intersection of Talmage Road and Airport Park Boulevard for a vehicle stopped in the intersection, with a non-responsive driver. Witnesses had observed the vehicle stopped on Talmage Road at the stoplight, and that it failed to proceed for the green light. The vehicle finally entered the intersection and stopped, and the driver was seen slouched over the steering wheel and passed out. The officer was able to awaken the driver, identified as 51 year old Evan Matt Morris, who had been drinking. Morris was on probation and prohibited from drinking alcohol, and was found too intoxicated to drive and was arrested for DUI and for violating probation. (Ukiah Police Department Press Release.)

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