Saturday, 04 February 2023

News

NORTH COAST – A firefighter working in the Mendocino National Forest was injured on Friday as efforts to contain the Soda Complex continue.


As of Saturday, the Soda Complex had burned 7,020 acres to the north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury, on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District.


Forest Service spokesman Brian LaMoure reported that late on Friday a firefighter was air evacuated at the end of the shift, complaining of chest pain. No further information on the firefighter's condition was available Saturday.


Containment on Saturday was at 78 percent, another slight rollback in progress for firefighters, according to LaMoure.


Two fires out of the original four in the complex, which began on June 21 due to lightning storms, continue to burn – the Mill Fire, at 1,600 acres, with estimated containment on July 16; and the Monkey Rock Fire, at 1,630 acres, with containment expected on July 14, LaMoure reported.


Also on Friday, the Mill Fire's northwest flank continued to spread, while resources patrolled the areas of the contained Big and Back fires, where LaMoure said smoke had been observed.


Officials urged caution for hunters in the forest, as archery season began on Saturday. Hunters are cautioned to be aware of road closures in the area and the presence of fire traffic.


Suppression costs for the Soda Complex so far are estimated at $6.8 million.


The Yolla Bolly Complex in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness is now being managed as part of the Lime Complex. One of its largest fires, the Yellow, has burned more than 8,200 acres and has no estimate for containment. No other specifics on the complex were available late Saturday.


Mendocino County's lightning complex jumped to 85-percent containment at 53,200 acres burned, according to Cal Fire.


There are 2,102 firefighters continuing to work on the six remaining blazes in the complex, which originally had included a total of 127 fires, officials reported.


So far, there have been 42 injuries and one firefighter death in the Mendocino Lightning Complex, which Cal Fire reported has cost $33.1 million to fight.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKE COUNTY – The Lake County Office of Education is the object of an ongoing investigation by Lake County's grand jury, whose newly released report looks at allegations of overspending, jobs awarded to individuals without qualifications and retaliation by administrators against employees.


Chris Thomas, the Lake County Office of Education's deputy superintendent of education services, said Friday that the agency was disappointed with “a lot of very general allegations” made in the report, to which it plans to quickly respond.


“There are two sides to every story,” said Thomas, adding that the report “blindsided” the agency.


Lake County's latest grand jury report, released to the general public on Friday, stated that its Public Services Committee “received several complaints alleging a wide range of violations against the Lake County Office of Education.”


The agency, which is independent of the county government, supports local school districts with technical and advisory services while also overseeing the Aspire Program and Clearlake Community Day School.


The Lake County Office of Education is overseen by Superintendent Dave Geck, who was elected to his four-year office in June 2006 and sworn in during the fall of that year following the early retirement of his predecessor, Bill Cornelison.


The complaints submitted to the grand jury included “falsifying documents, receiving credentials under false pretenses, exorbitant spending, misuse of grant funding, wrongful dismissal, violation of policies and procedures, employee abuse, and negligence involving a student,” according to the report.


The report stated that the grand jury's Public Services Committee began investigating the allegations last December, and the inquiry was still ongoing when the report was prepared last month.


“The committee interviewed numerous witnesses, received and reviewed copies of reimbursement vouchers and documents relating to the investigation, and interviewed members of the LCOE administration,” the report stated, adding that the investigation had “grown significantly.”


Geck was interviewed, the report stated. Also interviewed was Thomas, who confirmed she was among those who appeared before the committee.


The investigation is ongoing and will continue this coming year, according to the report.


Chief among the allegations is that an individual within the agency was granted an administrative position and a $25,000-per-year salary increase yet lacked the qualifications for the job, which was created in 2007 and wasn't posted publicly before it was awarded.


The individual who received the job was not named in the report, and Thomas would not confirm the person's identity, saying it's a personnel matter.


Other complaints included a “pattern of exorbitant spending” by an administrator responsible for grant funds, although “documentation has not been discovered to prove misappropriation of grant funding,” according to the report; “hostile conditions,” including verbal and mental abuse; termination of some employees without representation; and reports regarding a student's academic achievements and placement which were allegedly altered to justify the student's placement in a class at the Clearlake Community School.


There also was the matter of fear of recrimination. “Several current employees of LCOE revealed, under oath, fear of administration and fear of repercussions for appearing before the committee,” the report stated.


Asked about that reference, Thomas said the agency's administration would not know who was appearing before the committee, so the accusation was baseless.


Did administration receive any complaints from employees about hostile work environment conditions or specific administrators? Thomas said she couldn't answer the question because it was a personnel matter.


Because the investigation is ongoing, the grand jury report offers no recommendations on the situation.


The report was released to county department heads and other agency administrators, such as Geck, on Wednesday, after the new grand jury was impaneled.


Thomas said Geck saw a copy of the report on Wednesday afternoon. The following day, he left for a planned Alaskan vacation. He's scheduled to return to the office July 28.


“The timing is bad,” said Thomas.


Before he left, Geck discussed the report with Thomas, she said.


“The superintendent has said he will be looking at these issues,” said Thomas.


She said the agency wants to speak to the grand jury about the report's findings and provide an immediate response. Thomas said the Lake County Office of Education disagrees with portions of the report, although she did not specify which parts of the report with which they did agree.


Will they investigate allegations of overspending of funds in responding to the grand jury report?


“What I can tell you is we're looking at all the allegations written here, and we're taking them very seriously,” Thomas said during an interview with Lake County News in her office Friday afternoon.


The report on the Lake County Office of Education is just one of many investigations contained in this year's grand jury report, which is 254 pages long and considered one of the most extensive ever produced.


Bron Locke, the grand jury's foreman, could not comment on the specifics of the report's contents. Generally, however, he said that the report was more extensive this year because the grand jury wanted to be as thorough as possible.


The Lake County Office of Education inquiry is one of several that will continue in the year ahead, said Locke.


“The grand jury has a responsibility to let people know we are actually watching,” he said.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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NORTH COAST – Despite hot weather and increasing fire danger, North Coast fires continued to move toward containment.


Continuing to burn on National Forest lands are the 6,120-acre Soda Complex, located to the north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury on the Upper Lake Ranger District in Lake and Mendocino counties, and the Yolla Bolly Complex in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, which has burned 10,669 acres.


Forest officials attribute both complexes to a June 21 lightning storm that passed over the North Coast.


The 1,390-acre Monkey Rock Fire in the Soda Complex experienced a flare up on Thursday, spreading embers on the M-1 Road outside of the wilderness area, according to US Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown.


She said firefighters quickly went to work on the spots where the embers spread, and continued patrolling for spot fires.


The complex is now 83-percent contained, Brown reported, with two fires still actively burning.


Besides the Monkey Rock Fire, the Mill Fire, at 940 acres, was still burning, and had made a strong uphill run on Wednesday, increasing in size as it went, according to Brown.


On Thursday, Brown said 307 firefighters remained assigned to the fire, which has cost $6.24 million to date to fight.


The Yolla Bolly Complex – located in Mendocino, Tehama and Trinity counties – has seven out of an original 22 fires still actively burning, according to Brown. The complex is 65-percent contained.


Brown said that, due to hot conditions, the fires could continue to spread. A total of 114 fire personnel are assigned to the complex, the suppression costs of which have cost $1.7 million to date.


In Mendocino County, where a lightning fire complex has burned 52,200 acres, 2,092 fire personnel continued to work on Thursday to put out all of the blazes, which are estimated at a total of 65-percent containment, Cal Fire officials reported.


While progress continues on the fires, there are still ample dangers, with a new evacuation warning issued by county officials on Thursday for the Mountain View Road area.


Thirty-six fires out of an original 127 continue to burn, with 335 residences threatened, according to Cal Fire. Suppression costs are estimated at $29.1 million.


For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino. For information about other fires around the state, visit www.cdf.ca.gov.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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I’ve admitted it in the past, I can be a food snob. I want the best of everything; e.g., I pay more for a can of anchovies than most people would pay for a dinner (it may sound extravagant, but they’re really good anchovies!).


However, even for me, there are days when I’m feeling lazy and I don’t want to spend hours preparing dinner, and that’s when I fall back on the old standbys, like a casserole.


That’s when I reach for what we call at our house “Cream of Soup.” That’s right, those wonderful little cans of cream of ... mushroom, chicken, broccoli, asparagus, all the different varieties they make.


If I reach back into my cupboard and my hand rests on a Cream of Soup with broccoli, then I look in the freezer for some broccoli to add to it, maybe some cheddar cheese, some rice, a little milk and leftover chicken, toss it all into a casserole dish and poof! Dinner almost makes itself. And the great thing is that cream of soup is an item that you can keep in your pantry and forget about until that night where you just say “I don’t wanna cook!” Whoosh! Cream of Soup swoops in and saves the day.


I always get a giggle out of recipes that call for a certain type of cream of soup. Would adding cream of broccoli soup to a recipe that calls for cream of mushroom ruin it? No, of course not! It simply adds a new dimension to whatever dish you’re making.


So I don’t even ask for any specific type anymore. If you were looking on my grocery list, all you would see among the items is “Cream of soup.” Try it: if you find a recipe calling for a particular cream of soup, rebel a little, go out on a limb and use a different flavor and see if it doesn’t just add a little something more to the dish.


I normally don’t endorse any particular brand of mass-produced product because I have the fundamental belief that if you have a good product then I’ll use it, and if you have a good product and pay me, I’ll endorse it.


But this is one time that I will break that rule and say that I use Campbell’s soups for these needs, just because of their Labels For Education program. I have a manila envelope taped to the side of my refrigerator that I collect labels in, along with the associated box tops and wrappers from various other products. I gather them for a year and then turn them in to the local school. Even if you don’t have children in school, you should save these Labels For Education so we can improve our local schools. One snowflake doesn’t make an avalanche, but somehow it still happens, eh?


Cream of mushroom soup was created by Campbell’s in 1934 and came to be known as “Lutheran binder” because of its ability to bind casseroles and hot dishes together. Growing up in Minnesota, that Lutheran, Scandinavian, agricultural, ice fortress, we had a casserole (actually, in Minnesota they are called “hotdish,” one word) at least every week, if not several times a week. Cream of soup was something that families bought monthly by the case. Not only is the “hotdish” something that you eat at home regularly, but it is a staple at the church potluck.


If you would like to learn to speak with a fluent Minnesotan accent, just try your best to sound like Edie McClurg in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and answer every question with “Yah, sure you betcha!” and end every sentence with “Don’tcha know!” (Yes, “don’tcha” is also one word). You’ll sound like a native. Whip up a “cream of soup” hotdish and you’re in!


Put “Cream of soup” on your grocery list, and even if you don’t use it for months, on that one day you do pull it out, it will feel like gold.


Cream of soup hot dish (casserole)


4 ounce wide egg noodles

1 can cream of soup

2 Six ounce cans of tuna

½ cup milk

3 tablespoons grated cheese (Parmesan, Asiago or crumbled feta work well)

3 tablespoons onion, chopped

Black pepper

2 tablespoons melted butter

4 teaspoons bread crumbs (or Panko)

¼ teaspoon Herbs de Provence (Dried thyme or oregano may be substituted for the Herbs de Provence)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Cook noodles according to the package instructions and drain. It’s best if the noodles are slightly undercooked as they will soften more as they bake later. Set aside.


In a casserole, place drained tuna and break up the large pieces. Add soup, milk, grated cheese and chopped onion. Mix together. Season with black pepper to taste. Fold in cooked noodles and gently stir until combined.


In a small bowl, mix melted butter and bread crumbs. Crush the Herbs de Provence into fine pieces and mix into breadcrumb mixture. Sprinkle evenly over the tuna noodle casserole.


Put casserole into oven for 30 minutes or until crumb topping is golden brown. Serves four.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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Whiskey was taken into protective custody on June 27, and is seen here during her care at Wasson Memorial Veterinary Hospital in Lakeport. Courtesy photo.

 

NOTE: This story contains images some readers may find upsetting.


LAKE COUNTY – In recent weeks county Animal Care and Control officials have confronted a number of animal cruelty cases, the latest involving two severely abused dogs.


According to Animal Care and Control Director Denise Johnson, one of the dogs was hit by a semi truck and given no veterinary care, while the other was found unable to stand and without food and water.


Both remain under veterinary care and the county's protective custody, officials stated.


Johnson reported that on June 27, Animal Care and Control Officer Eric Wood responded to a welfare call on a dog that was hit two days previous by a semi truck.


The person reporting the dog's situation alleged that its owners sought no medical treatment for the animal, which had been crying in agony for two days, Johnson said.


When Wood arrived at the owners' residence, he found the 6-month-old, 25-pound female pit bull was unable to stand, said Johnson. The animal hadn't been able to urinate for two days.


Wood rushed the dog – dubbed “Whiskey – to Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic in Lakeport, where veterinarians confirmed she was suffering from a shattered hip, Johnson said. Whiskey then underwent emergency orthopedic surgery.


“She's doing great,” Wood told Lake County News on Friday. “She hasn't made a full recovery but she's on her way.”


Wood said Whiskey can stand up and walk around, although she might have suffered nerve damage to her right back leg.

 

 

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Whiskey has a large scar from the emergency surgery she underwent. Photo courtesy of Lake County Animal Care and Control.
 

 


However, he said Whiskey has a great attitude, which is aiding her recovery. “She possibly could be released from the vet in a week.”


Once released, Whiskey will remain in protective county custody, said Wood. Her owners, who have not yet been named, have 14 days to pay the veterinary bill to retain ownership. If they don't, her ownership will revert to the county, which will place her in a foster home.


The outlook so far isn't as bright for “Luke,” a 10-year-old German shepherd who Wood found while responding to a call earlier this month.

 

 

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Luke undergoing care at Clearlake Veterinary Clinic. Photo courtesy of Lake County Animal Care and Control.
 

 


Wood found Luke with no food, water or shelter, lying in the direct sun and unable to move. What's more, the 10-year-old, 120-pound dog could not stand, and was dragging his hindquarters when he did try to move, Johnson said.


By attempting to drag himself across the yard, Luke had suffered wounds, which Johnson said were open and filled with maggots.


Johnson said Luke was in pain, and his fur was matted and filled with stickers and foxtails. The person who reported Luke to authorities alleged he had been in that condition for weeks, and the owner – whose name officials haven't disclosed – hadn't taken him to the vet.


Wood impounded Luke and took him to Clearlake Veterinary Clinic where he received emergency care.

 

 

 

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Luke was found without food or water and unable to stand, besides having open wounds and hair matted with foxtails and stickers. Photo courtesy of Lake County Animal Care and Control.
 

 

 


However, Wood said Friday that he had checked with the veterinarian that day, and Luke's prognosis wasn't looking promising.


“He could go either way as far as making a full recovery or not,” said Wood. “He's 10 years old so his age is working against him right now.”


Luke also is extremely overweight, which is complicating his recovery, Wood said.


Wood said he'll know more about Luke's outlook on Monday. At that time, if Luke still can't stand on his own, it will be up to the veterinarian to decide if it's more humane to euthanize the dog.


“From what I've seen, it doesn't look good, though,” he said.


Cases against the owners are being referred to the District Attorney's Office. Wood said they'll face animal cruelty charges.


The Humane Society of the United States reports that a conviction on California's felony anti-cruelty statute calls for a maximum fine of $20,000 and between one and three years in jail, with psychological counseling also mandatory. That law was enacted in 1988 and pertains to all kinds of animals.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKE COUNTY – Red flag warnings due to heat and extreme fire danger, and warnings about air quality will remain in effect through Friday, weather and air quality officials reported.


All of Lake County and much of Northern California is under a red flag warning and a hazardous weather outlook, according to the National Weather Service.


For much of Friday high temperatures are expected to continue, which the agency says is coupled with low humidity and northerly winds, creating conditions of critical fire danger. A gradual cooling trend is expected to begin Friday afternoon.


Lake County Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds reported that an alert warning sensitive groups that air quality is unhealthy will continue through Friday, as smoke from the region's wildland fires continues to degrade air quality.


Fires in Mendocino and Butte counties have been largely responsible for the smoke in Lake County's air basin, Reynolds said.


Reynolds reported that air quality on Thursday was estimated to have exceeded state and federal health-based particulate standards by 175 percent.


All residents need to take special care, according to Lake County Health Officer Dr. Karen Tait. The sensitive groups of special concern include children, the elderly, and those with heart and respiratory conditions.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKEPORT – A local doctor has sued the Lake County Record-Bee for libel, saying an April story incorrectly reported on her medical care of a patient, leading to damage of her professional reputation.


The case was filed in Lake County Superior Court on May 27. No specific damage amounts are listed, and no initial hearing has yet been set. The newspaper must serve a responsive pleading by July 18.


Named in the suit as defendants are the Record-Bee's parent company, MediaNews Group Inc., the fourth largest newspaper company in the United States; Publisher Gary Dickson; Managing Editor Rick Kennedy; former staff writer Elizabeth Wilson; and Does one through 10.


The story in question, published April 15, said Dr. Camille Keene diagnosed local radio personality Eric Patrick last November with a rare form of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease – and that the diagnosis was incorrect.


The story went on to state that doctors at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center conducted tests that found Patrick has a disease called Dystonia, not ALS. The only source quoted in the article was Patrick.


Contacted for comment on the story, Dickson offered a statement via e-mail.


“The only comment I will make at this time is that it is unfortunate that a lawsuit arose from a story about a well known local person’s good fortune,” Dickson wrote.


Patrick, when contacted by Lake County News, refused to comment. “I'd just as soon stay out of that.”


Tamara L. Morgan and Stephen Boutin of the Sacramento law firm Boutin, Gibson, Di Giusto, Hodell Inc. are representing Keene in the suit.


Morgan told Lake County News that the article titled 'Misdiagnosed man reclaims his life' was inaccurate and damaging, especially because it repeatedly used the word “misdiagnose” a term akin to incompetence in the medical world.


The suit states that Dr. Keene never assigned a final, incorrect diagnosis of Patrick in the first place.


A letter Boutin sent to the Record-Bee, dated April 18, said the facts of the case didn't support the “reckless conclusion” that Patrick had been given a wrong diagnosis, and that the article had imputed to Keene “incompetence.” The complaint stated that at no point in Keene's assessment of Patrick did she arrive at a “final, incorrect determination of his medical condition.”


The letter also questioned why the article did not address how Patrick got to UCSF for further testing. “Mr. Patrick could have gotten his appointment with UCSF on his own, or as a result of the referral from some other physician, or possibly as a result of a referral and diligent efforts of Dr. Keene. By what means did Mr. Patrick obtain an appointment at UCSF? Why did he go to UCSF? Did you ever confirm the facts in this regard?"


Furthermore, the letter said the article was wrong in its chronology. “We can tell you that there was no diagnosis whatsoever and no communication [between Patrick and Keene] in November 2007.”


Morgan said former Record-Bee staff writer Elizabeth Wilson made no attempt to contact Keene to verify the accuracy of the statements relating to her care of Patrick. Morgan said Keene checked with her receptionist about whether any messages had been left by Wilson, but there were none.


Doctor seeks retraction of story


Boutin's letter to the Record-Bee asked for an immediate retraction, pursuant to Civil Code section 48a, which sets out procedures for seeking story corrections. Such demands have to be served within 20 days of knowledge of a publication that is believed to be libelous.


He also sought publication of the retraction in as conspicuous a place as the paper's front page, above-the-fold placement of the April 15 article.


Keene's attorneys also suggested the newspaper should follow up with Patrick in an effort to get all of the facts and present a complete story which they said would vindicate Dr. Keene.


The suit states that Kennedy was apologetic and expressed his desire to correct the reporting. In response to their request that the story also be removed from the paper's Web site, Kennedy sent them an e-mail on April 23 assuring them that the story would be taken down later that day.


However, a basic archive search performed Friday evening for Patrick's name on the Record-Bee site brings up three headlines, including the story Kennedy said would be removed.


When retractions are sought, the Civil Code offers a publication three weeks to run a retraction from the time a notice of demand is submitted. However, no retraction appeared in that timeframe.


Three weeks after Boutin sent the letter, he received a response from Rachel Matteo-Boehm of Holme, Roberts and Owen LLP, the Record-Bee's San Francisco attorney, who warned that, regardless of whether or not the paper published defamatory statements, Keene would risk paying attorneys' fees and further adverse publicity if she filed a libel suit.


Matteo-Boehm's letter further said she planned to file a motion under California's anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute, which is meant to protect citizens' rights to free speech.


In an interview with Lake County News, Matteo-Boehm said the Record-Bee stands by its story, the reporting of which did not err in Patrick's case.


“Based on what we understand to be the facts of the case, the use of the word 'misdiagnose' was entirely appropriate,” she said, adding that Keene's suit is “unmeritorious.”


Because the case is ongoing, Matteo-Boehm said she could not comment on specific aspects of it, including Keene's assertion that she was never called for an interview. She also would not comment when asked if the newspaper attempted to followup with Patrick on the story.


Because the newspaper stands by its report, it did not find doing a followup story on Keene's perspective – which is what Keene's counsel had suggested – to be appropriate, said Matteo-Boehm.


Instead, Matteo-Boehm said the Record-Bee attempted to work with the doctor, inviting her to submit a letter to the editor or a guest commentary after receiving the letter from Keene's attorneys. Matteo-Boehm said she did not know why Keene hadn't exercised those opportunities.


“The newspaper believes in speech,” Matteo-Boehm said.


After following the statute in an attempt to get the record set straight – which Morgan called “a disappointing process” – they filed the suit based on the “egregiousness” of the article and the paper's response.


“The reason we filed the lawsuit is she needs a voice,” said Morgan, adding that Keene has been unable to publicly defend herself or refute what she considers to be defamatory statements.


The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) severely limits what information a physician can disclose about a patient, which Boutin pointed out to the newspaper in his April 18 letter. As a result of the law, “Dr. Keene is very limited at this time in the information that we can provide to explain the relevant circumstances, and in turn, to defend Dr. Keene’s reputation.”


At the same time, Boutin said Keene is “a fair-minded and ethical person” who both wanted to strictly adhere to the regulations and protect Patrick's privacy – “to the extent it still exists.”


In an effort to avoid violating Patrick's right to not have his confidential information disclosed, Keene also hasn't disclosed his files to her own counsel. However, evidence can be presented in court in such a way as to protect Patrick's medical information, which will be subpoenaed for the case, said Morgan. Keene's attorneys plan to request the court grant a protective order to seal Patrick's medical records from the public.


Morgan said her office contacted Patrick via a letter to ask him to voluntarily submit his records to Dr. Keene's counsel in order to clarify the statements to made to the Record-Bee.


She said he called to ask who they were working for and why they wanted a release to view his medical records. When they told him they were working for Keene, he exclaimed “No!” and abruptly hung up the phone.


Keene is the county's only neurologist, said Morgan. She's practiced in Lakeport for the past three years.


The doctor's practice relies on referrals from other physicians. “What she's seeing now is there's been a drop-off in referrals,” said Morgan.


The letter Keene's attorneys sent to the Record-Bee also brought up the issue of the $46,000 raised in a community fundraiser on Patrick's behalf. Patrick told Wilson that he planned to spend $5,000 to go to a Mayo Clinic in Arizona to make sure he had Dystonia, not ALS. “In his mind, he still does not have a definitive diagnosis,” the letter stated.


Matteo-Boehm said the Record-Bee hasn't filed its official response to the libel suit, which is due the middle of this month. She said they may file an anti-SLAPP motion but no action has been taken yet, which was confirmed by a check of Lake County Superior Court records Friday.


Libel cases uncommon for California papers


Terry Francke is founder of Californians Aware, a nonprofit that assists journalists with open government and First Amendment-related issues. He said the first examples of SLAPP suits were brought by powerful interests trying to muzzle critics during the permitting process on large developments.


“The problem with a SLAPP suit is it was not intended to really win as much as to make it so costly for the speaker that the speaker would be intimidated and shut up,” he explained.


As a result, the anti-SLAPP motion was created, and has been in use in California for close to 20 years, according to Francke. It requires the plaintiff to put on their best case, in brief, to show if they have been injured and have a chance of winning the case.


“That's a very powerful maneuver,” he said. It also requires no legal discovery before the hearing.


As a result, use of the anti-SLAPP motion has become commonplace for attorneys defending libel cases, said Francke.


He said First Amendment defenses offer broad protection for reporters. “The First Amendment protects not only responsible and professional reporting, but also negligent reporting.”


To lose such a case, he said a plaintiff has to be able to show a journalist knew what they were reporting was false and showed a reckless disregard of the facts, causing damage.


Francke said the best cure for faults in reporting is more speech, such as in Keene writing a rebuttal letter or commentary, which Matteo-Boehm said the paper invited her to do.


He also posed the question that, if Patrick was indeed misdiagnosed, why did he not sue Keene for malpractice?


Even in today's litigious society, libel suits against newspapers aren't common, according to legal experts.


“I can't think of the last time a California newspaper has been sued,” said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents more than 700 daily, weekly and student newspapers around the state, the Record-Bee among them.


Ewert said the small number of libels suits filed is a result of California's strong anti-SLAPP statute, as well as the difficulty of proving actual damages from libel.


“If they get it wrong, if it's false, most newspapers do the right thing and correct it,” said Ewert, adding that most newspapers go to great lengths to verify stories.


He said he's never seen an occasion when a newspaper got it wrong yet didn't correct its report.


Local attorney Robert Riggs said libel cases pose specific challenges, requiring a plaintiff to show they've been damaged by the publication, and that the statements contained in the report aren't true.


After reviewing Keene's suit, Riggs said, “I think it's an interesting case because it appears, on the face of it, that it may have merit.”


He added of the disputed article, “I think it wasn't very carefully written.”


He said the Record-Bee can bring the special motion to strike down the case under the anti-SLAPP statute, but he said he could see Keene's case surviving that motion and a judge ruling the case has merit, which would likely lead to a settlement.


Riggs said he believed a judge could be skeptical about granting relief under the anti-SLAPP statute since the Record-Bee, after being advised of its error, apparently declined Keene’s request that it publish a retraction.


Another reason libel cases aren't brought often is that damages are difficult to prove and document, said Riggs. “This is probably the biggest challenge to her case.”


Libel cases also can compound a bad situation with more adverse publicity, said Riggs.


The case brings to light other interesting legal questions as well, said Riggs, including Patrick's privacy rights. The issue of Patrick's health records could generate litigation in itself, but it could be argued that, by speaking with the media, he gave up his privacy.


Riggs has an unusual perspective on the facts of the case: His mother was diagnosed with the bulbar form of ALS that Patrick had stated publicly was the disease he believed he had. The disease, Riggs said, was very difficult to diagnose, and it eventually claimed his mother's life.


Morgan said that, despite the lawsuit's filing, Keene continues hoping that the Record-Bee will retract the story and correct its reporting on Patrick's situation.


Click here to view the lawsuit.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKE COUNTY – The people involved with Lake County Community Co-op (LCCC) have made amazing strides since they first gathered in January of 2008.


Their first project to take flight was the Friday Night Farmers’ Market. This weekly market has created a gathering spot in Clearlake where families can purchase farm-fresh produce, listen to live music and browse various booths. Check out the calendar at http://lakecountycommunityco-op.wikispaces.com to discover who will be playing each week.


July has seen the launch of another LCCC project, a Buying Club. Membership is open to the public for a yearly fee of $24. Members can choose to purchase boxes of fresh, local and/or organic fruits, vegetables and herbs on a week-by-week basis. More information about the Buying Club and Community Supported Agriculture can be found at http://lakeco-op.org or by calling Patrick at 987-1987 or 987-1007.


Currently, LCCC is having a logo contest. The person who creates the logo that best represent the mission of the co-op will be presented with a weekly box of produce for four weeks, total value of at least $64. You can download the guidelines and an application for the contest at http://lakecountycommunityco-op.wikispaces.com or contact Lorna Sue at 274-9254.


Another project that is quickly taking off is the community garden site at the senior center in Clearlake. For the most current information on the community gardens, or to volunteer your time and talents, please stop by the LCCC general meeting, 10 a.m. until noon, the second Saturday of every month at the Hot Spot on Golf Avenue in Clearlake.


Most weeks, at the conclusion of the general meeting there is a short education session by an expert in current issues involving health, food safety, localization and other fascinating topics. The general meeting is open to the public. The Lake County community Co-op is looking for volunteers that are interested in joining this dynamic organization on the ground floor.


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Miss Lake County Amanda Betat (left) and Miss Lake County Outstanding Teen Lauren Berlinn. Courtesy photo.

 


LAKE COUNTY – Two young local women represented Lake County in style in scholarshp pageants late last month.


The Miss California Scholarship Pageant was held from June 20 to June 28 in Fresno. Lake County’s local representative, Amanda Betat, did extremely well, receiving the non-finalist talent award for her classical piano “Fantasie-Impromptu Opus 66.”


Betat did well in each phase of competition and had a wonderful experience meeting and working with the 54 other talented and intelligent young women from across the state.


The Miss California’s Outstanding Teen Pageant was held in conjunction with the Miss California Pageant in Fresno.


Lauren Berlinn, Lake County’s Outstanding Teen, did an excellent job of representing Lake County. This was the first year that Lake County has had a teen representative.


The Miss Lake County Scholarship Committee is extremely proud of both of these young ladies and has thoroughly enjoyed working with each one.


Accompanying Miss Lake County was Princes Shannyn Magana also accompanying Miss Gavilan Hills Saundra Combs was Princes Rachel Kelly.


The Miss Lake County Scholarship Organization announces its newest scholarship fundraiser, the “From New York to Lakeport” fashion show, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 19 at the Soper-Reese Community Theater. Special guests will include Miss California 2008 Jackie Geist, Miss Lake County Amanda Betat and Miss Lake County’s Outstanding Teen Lauren Berlinn. Presale admission is $45, $50 at the door. Call 263-1631 for tickets.


Due to the fires this year, The Miss Lake County Scholarship Organization was not able to sell fireworks over the Fourth of July. Fireworks sales are usually the largest fundraiser and provider of scholarship money for the pageant.


It is the committee’s hope that the “From New York to Lakeport” fashion show will be able to provide enough money to award the young women who compete in this year’s pageant with a substantial scholarship. Community support is greatly encouraged and will be much appreciated.


This year, due to generous support, the Miss Lake County Pageant will be held on Aug. 8 at Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino. This will allow for more scholarship money and will aid in furthering the education of the young women who compete in the program and teaching them skills needed to help in their future success.


Miss Lake County Amanda Betat, Miss Lake County’s Outstanding Teen Lauren Berlinn, and the young ladies competing this year hope to see you there.


Call 800-809-3636 for reserve your seats now.

 

 

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Amanda Betat received the non-finalist talent award for her classical piano

LAKE COUNTY – Air conditions are expected to improve Saturday as winds clear out Lake County's air basin of smoke from fires that continue to burn around the region.


Fires in the Soda Complex and Yolla Bolly Complex in the Mendocino National Forest continued to burn Friday, as did a massive lightning complex in neighboring Mendocino counties, fire officials reported.


Wildland fires in Mendocino and Butte counties have taken a heavy toll on Lake County's air quality in recent days, but Lake County Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds said conditions began to improve late afternoon Friday.


The improved conditions came from a west to southeast wind that helped clear some smoke out of the county and which is expected to continue into the weekend, said Reynolds. He said air quality should be in the moderate range on Saturday.


However, he added that significant smoke remains over the ocean, and the west to southwest winds may bring more smoke over Northern California in the next few days.


In fire news, officials reported Friday that the Soda Complex on the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District was 82-percent contained, a slight rollback on progress reported the previous day.


The fires have burned 6,325 acres in Lake and Mendocino counties, according to US Forest Services spokesperson Phebe Brown.


The Yolla Bolly Complex – which includes fires on the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness in Mendocino, Trinity and Tehama counties – saw some growth on Friday, according to Brown.


Brown reported that the fire remained at 65-percent containment, with the estimates of its acreage rolled back from more than 10,000 acres to 6,625.


There are 301 total personnel on the Soda Complex, which has cost $6.5 million to fight, Brown reported. The Yolla Bolly Complex has 78 personnel assigned to it, with suppression to date costing $1.45 million.


In neighboring Mendocino County, the Mendocino Lightning Complex remained at 65-percent containment Friday, having burned 500 more acres to reach 52,700 acres in size, Cal Fire reported. Approximately 2,092 personnel remain assigned to the complex.


Cal Fire's Friday report noted that 20 fires remain active out of the original 127 sparked by lightning three weeks ago.


Evacuation warnings also were lifted in the communities of Cummings and Leggett Valley late Friday, according to Cal Fire and Mendocino County officials.


The fire has so far cost $31.4 million to fight, Cal Fire reported.


For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino. For information about other fires around the state, visit www.cdf.ca.gov.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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The 2008-09 grand jury, with Brondell Locke returning as foreman (standing center, with blue folder) on Wednesday, July 9, 2008, in Judge Arthur Mann's Department 3 courtroom. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 


LAKEPORT – As officials prepare to release to the public the latest report by Lake County's civil grand jury, a new group of jurors for the 2008-09 year was seated Wednesday morning.


The new grand jury was impaneled in a short ceremony in Judge Arthur Mann's Department 3 courtroom at the Lake County Courthouse in Lakeport.


Also on Wednesday, the 2007-08 grand jury report was released to county department heads in anticipation of its public release, scheduled for Friday.


Several county officials were on hand to welcome and congratulate the new jurors. They included Judge David Herrick, Judge Richard Martin, county Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Cox, Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff, County Counsel Anita Grant and Auditor-Control/County Clerk Pam Cochrane.


Judge Mann thanked the outgoing jurors and their foreman, Brondell Locke, for their service.


“You perform a very important function for the county of Lake,” Mann said.


With its report filed, the group was released from service. The 2007-08 members were Linda M. Alexander, Bob Cate, Pam Clevenger, Virginia L. Cline, Sandra Damitz, Michael H. Daugherty, Steven A. Esberg, Richard Everts, Kenneth L. Fountain, Kathleen H. Harrell, Pauline Hauser, Brondell Locke, Thomas A. Marquette, Jerry T. McCormick, Ronald G. Nagy, Carol Ripplinger, Lonny J. Rittler and Elizabeth Whittaker-Williams.


Mann lauded them for their report, which he called “the most extensive” he's ever seen.


The 254-page document is nearly 100 pages larger than last year's, with outgoing jurors saying it contained 82 reports on various issues and organizations, and also explored several complaints submitted by citizens.


They could not comment on the substance of the report, which isn't to be made public until Friday.


Mann then seated the new grand jury, which included four members – Linda M. Alexander of Witter Springs, Richard P. Everts of Upper Lake, Virginia L. Cline of Lakeport and Kathleen H. Harrell of Lakeport – who had agreed to continue their service from last year's grand jury


The rest of the new grand jury included Joy K. Allred of Upper Lake, Melissa Bentley of Cobb, Terry Bissonnette of Hidden Valley, John G. Daniels, of Lakeport, Harold Dietrich of Loch Lomond, Jesse O. Firestone Sr. of Clearlake, Dave R. Johnson of Clearlake, Loretta A. Krentz of Lucerne, Carolynn Manley of Lucerne, Phillip E. Myers of Lakeport, Charles O’Neill-Jones of Lower Lake, Lawrence Platz of Lakeport, Steven Tellardin of Kelseyville and Carol M. Vedder of Lakeport.'


That still left the jury one person short. So Mann reappointed Locke to the grand jury, a move which Locke greeted with surprise.


After swearing in the new grand jury, Mann reappointed Locke grand jury foreman, which Locke told Lake County News after the ceremony had proved to be another surprise for him.


Mann told the other jurors that they would find it easy to work with Locke, who has been on the grand jury the past two years. This will be his third year in a row with the group, and his second year as grand jury foreman.


Since the grand jury also had no alternates, Mann told outgoing jurors that they may be called in the event there are openings. Mann added it's a “virtual certainty” vacancies will occur on the grand jury in the year ahead.


The incoming grand jurors then went into a closed-door session with Judge Mann, who gave them their charge so they could begin organizing for the year ahead.


During their year of service – which follows a fiscal year format, from July to July – grand jury members serve as officers of the court but work as an independent body to ensure that government is acting in the best interests of the citizens it's intended to serve.


A statement from the grand jury's office says the body's major function “is to examine county and city government and special districts to ensure that their duties are being lawfully carried out.”


In order to do that, the grand jury reviews and evaluates procedures, methods and systems utilized by government entities to determine whether more efficient and economical programs may be employed.


In recent years, the Lake County grand jury has been noted for its highly detailed investigative reports, focusing attention on, among other things, an embezzlement case at the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center, Child Protective Services and defense services for indigent defendants in the county's court system.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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