29

Apples to Apples – Justice for Some

 

It’s Pie Baking Thursday – the day when ovens all over Manton are filled with apple pies that will be sold Saturday at the Manton Apple Festival. Volunteers have already spent weeks peeling and coring apples, making filling, rolling out crusts, and assembling these delicious works of art. You’re coming up, right? Of course you are. If you get a pie with a bite taken out of it, it was baked in my kitchen. Quality control.

Mr. Standish and I decided to tackle Brokeoff Mountain Wednesday. It’s the hardest hike in Lassen Park – 7.4 miles and a 2,677 foot elevation gain. Also one of the most breathtaking trails. Forest, creek, meadow, rock, gorgeous views. Alas, when we got there, the wind was blowing hard. The summits of all the tallest peaks – Lassen, Brokeoff, and Prospect – are very windy, even on calm days. Not wanting to be blown off the top, we decided to stay below the tree line and went to look for another hike. 
Interesting aside – the parking area for the Brokeoff trailhead was packed, very odd for a Wednesday in late September. The lot at Bumpass Hell looked like it could have been Fourth of July weekend. Same for the Peak Trail. We stopped and looked up at the dozens of tiny hikers on their way up the volcano. Ants on a conveyor belt. While we are always thrilled to have lots of visitors to our little gem of a national park, getting away from crowds is the whole idea, so…
We decided to hike down from the Terrace Lake trailhead to Paradise Meadows. The trail is beautiful with no fire damage and is very lightly used. 

Lassen Peak from the trail

View of some oil the fire damaged areas off in the distance.

Paradise Meadows

We passed two other hikers – a couple gals from Holland. Living below sea level, they were not used to the altitude, but were still enjoying the beautiful day. Easy little 4 miler – 2 straight downhill, two straight up. Then we drove through the park to the Hwy 44 entrance and had dinner at Pioneer Pizza in Shingletown. It was remarkably good. We scarfed our patty melts and fries out in the beer garden under the tall trees and went home happy and stuffed.

Patty melts and adult beverages

I attended the Tehama Supes meeting last week to support a couple defendants at their cannabis hearing. The hearings themselves are Regular Agenda items, but the public is not allowed to speak on them like they are with all other agenda items. The following is printed on every agenda: “Members of the public may address the Board from the podium on items on the agenda when the matter is called.” Except these hearings, where the board of supervisors act as “judge”.
Several supporters spoke about the case during the normal Public Comments period, because there was no other time for us to be heard. During the afternoon session when the hearings were scheduled, Assistant County Counsel Andrew Prewitt explained that the proceedings were “quasi-judicial” and that’s why only people who are named in the cases or their professional representation could speak. Ok. Then the hearings need to be categorized differently than Regular Agenda Items. How about “Quasimodo Judicial Proceedings”? They could be held on Wednesdays – Hump Day.
Of the 16 hearings, 2 addressed blight, the rest cannabis. I don’t know anything about 15 of those cases except what was presented by Code Enforcement officers and the defendants that were in the room, except the case our group came to attend. More on that in a minute.
What became abundantly clear as the items were presented was that the big criminal commercial grows that received warranted searches and abatements all had small fines in the hundred of dollars. There was one 9,000 plant grow that was charged $3,000 – the same as we paid for our 11 plants that we were forced to murder in 2017. All the small personal grows had hefty fines.

Photo – Red Bluff Daily News

That makes a ton of sense, doesn’t it? Here’s how it works. If the county discovers –  through complaints, tips, or surveillance – there’s a giant criminal grow, they get a judge to sign a warrant and then just go in and abate the plants on day one, so no $1,000-a-day fines accrue. They are just charged the abatement costs, which are pretty reasonable. The criminals are usually not arrested, because they are mostly non-violent pot-heads trying to make a living. If they were arrested and processed, they’d be out of jail quicker than you could say Banana Kush Gorilla Melon and roll it into a fatty.
So these criminals – cartel and sole proprietor – lose their plants and make it up on their other grows. Cost of doing business. But for the guy with 6 plants in his garden, it can mean losing his home.
This was the plan from the beginning. Fine the poor, sick, and brown people more than they can possibly pay, lien the property for more than it’s worth, and the owners walk away. The county gets to auction it off and cha-ching!
But sometimes the victims fight back. 

Jenny and Bill Byron

Such is the case with Jenny and Bill Byron. I first met them outside the Kangaroo Kort – aka Abatement Hearings – in 2019, two years after our own first abatement. We had learned many things during that two years. For example, should you decide to pursue a lawsuit in a Tehama County Superior Court (not advisable – go to Federal), you are not allowed to object to anything you didn’t object to in your initial Administrative Hearing. Back when you were frightened and had zero knowledge of the process. That sounds fair, doesn’t it? 
We made a list of things we knew were illegal about the abatement scheme – things we would have objected to had we known – printed them out, and gave them to people waiting their turn outside the hearings. Bill and Jenny read them aloud during their hearing. The objections were disregarded by Lynn Strom, the hearing officer, but some of them became the basis for their lawsuit against the county, which is still in the appeals process. 

Lynn Strom – police1.com

Strom is a former Assistant District Attorney in Tehama County and rabid anti-cannabis crusader who set up a couple medical patients big time in 2004. She spirited their attorneys into judge’s chambers where she told them she was dropping charges because their clients were bring arrested in the courtroom at that moment on federal charges. You can read the sordid tale here if you want to become nauseated.

The Byrons’ story is long and complex. When Code Enforcement came to their place to serve their abatement notice, there were no plants. When CE came back a week later for re-inspection, the officers couldn’t tell the Byrons where the alleged plants were, although two dead strays were found in a compost pile. they should have been able to walk or drive to where the cannabis was. They wouldn’t or couldn’t. The Byrons made more than sufficient attempts to rectify the “nuisance” in the allotted time frame but were stonewalled at every turn in order to obtain the maximum fine for the county. It was impossible for them to comply. They spoke with CE every day, trying to get the information they needed. It was not forthcoming. The Byrons own 3 separate parcels with tenants, but they were willing to abate any plants if CE would just tell them where they were. You don’t get to see CE’s evidence until your hearing. Due process anyone?

So, after 30 days, they received the maximum fine of $30,000. They sued the county. After 3 years, interest has increased the total to $36,000 and now they’ve added on the county’s legal costs, too, so they are at over $70,000.

Deputy County Counsel Daniel Klausner was flustered and unprepared for the hearing last week in the board chambers. Their hearing was the very last item on the afternoon agenda and was the only hearing not presented by Code Enforcement, but by an actual lawyer. Klausner asked for a recess so he could figure out exactly what he wanted to say, even though he had been sitting there for almost 2 hours while the other cases were heard.

Daniel Klausner

He whined a little and begged the board not to consider any evidence submitted by the Byrons. Well, of course not. What evidence do the Byrons have? Glad you asked, Strawman. Honestly, more than I have had a chance to look at myself. I’ll run through a couple points, though. There are three transcripts of the County’s recording of the hearings. One was created by the official clerk, the other two by professional transcription firms paid for by the Byrons. Interestingly, the County’s transcript is missing key parts that the other two transcripts and the official recording both include. The Byrons have all the transcripts and the recordings and have submitted them to the board for perusal.

Klausner – who is a dead ringer for Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes – is never a very forceful speaker, but he sounded nervous and scared during the proceeding. And he should be. The county appears to not have handled this case with any attention to detail or diligence. Environmental Health promised to show the Byrons on a map where the alleged cannabis was, but that never happened even though they asked for it repeatedly.
 
We will be presenting selected clips of the official county recordings at future supervisor meetings. In one, Klausner says to Lynn Strom, “You got us a fucking draw.” Us, as in you and me, on the same side against the defendant. When the “judge” also acts as prosecutor along with the actual prosecutor, justice cannot be reasonably expected. And the fact that Klausner regarded their situation a “draw” means they couldn’t even win by cheating.
The Byrons have a ton of evidence to show the board of supervisors at their next hearing on Oct. 25, which is really about rights – not pot.
If you appreciate journalist Liz Merry’s reporting and commentary, please consider contributing to A News Cafe. Thank you!

Liz Merry

Liz Merry was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, then transplanted to the Jersey Shore. She moved to Chico in 1984 and married her comedy partner, Aaron Standish, in 1990. They have lived in Manton since 1994.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
29 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments