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Sacramento Bee challenges judge in Moonlight lawsuits

Alicia Knadler
Indian Valley Editor


The Sacramento Bee lost its effort to keep legal documents from being sealed in lawsuits between the federal government and Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), yet they won in a way, as well.

The legal maneuverings and mountains of paperwork between Sacramento and Plumas County are similar to a Rube Goldberg-style contraption.

“Many things have been sealed in these two lawsuits,” Sacramento Bee Legal Affairs Reporter Denny Walsh said of the federal cases that will be heard in the Sacramento U.S. Court. “And I finally got tired of it.”

In a Jan. 19 article, he described the documents as a potential “coverup of misconduct and fraud on the part of U.S. Forest Service employees in connection with the agency’s investigation of the Moonlight fire.”

And even though the documents, including sworn testimonies, might show a coverup, SPI is willing to accommodate the government by allowing them to be sealed, kept from the public.

Sacramento Bee attorney Karl Olson filed a brief against the sealing, which was unopposed by Sierra Pacific attorneys, Walsh reported in a second article Jan. 26.

Misconduct on the part of Sierra Pacific was also mentioned in Walsh’s report, when he quoted U.S. District Judge Kimberly L.J. Mueller.

She said Sierra Pacific was free to file those documents publicly, yet even their attempt to do so seems improper, because they have already been ruled immaterial to their suit against the Forest Service.

Doing so will also open them up to possible sanctions, or monetary penalties, according to Walsh.

“Sierra Pacific’s attorneys did not oppose The Bee’s opposition to a sealing order, explaining it was only because the government wants the material ‘made inaccessible to members of the public’ that they asked for such an order,” Walsh reported. “The government’s response to The Bee’s opposition makes clear that is an accurate characterization of its position.”

Maneuverings aside, the documents were already filed as sealed and are part of the court docket, according to Walsh, something the judge did not address.

Damages and interest claimed in the lawsuits, both state and federal, total more than $1 billion, he reported.

Jury trials in both courts are scheduled to begin in April 2012.

Walsh’s complete reports are available online by entering the word Moonlight as a search term at



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