Meet Your 2018 Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Candidates, Part One: Lathe Gill

Ryan Burns / Friday, April 13 @ 7 a.m. / Elections

Lathe Gill is running for a position on the bench of the Humboldt County Superior Court this June.

Lathe Gill sits in a window seat at the Ramone’s in Old Town with three items on the table in front of him: an iPhone with a cracked plastic case, a black leather organizer that has his name embossed in gold in the lower right corner, and a mug of hot maté, a beverage, he later explains, that he acquired a taste for as a Mormon missionary in Argentina.

A name tag is pinned to the lapel on his charcoal-gray sport coat. Above his name are the words “for County Judge.”

Over the course of a 45-minute interview, Gill explained why he’s running for a seat on the bench of the Humboldt County Superior Court, and he spoke on a range of topics, including his passion for social justice, his work for the California Teachers Association and his belief that the American legal system is “rigged for the people in power.”

While Gill was raised in a Mormon family (on the beach in San Diego) and remains a member of the church to this day, he sometimes disagrees with the religion’s stances on social and political issues, as does his extended family. 

“A good example would be the conversation I had with my father during the [former California Governor Arnold] Schwarzenegger era,” he says. “There was a ballot measure to provide universal health care in California. My father had been a clergyman and a bishop, and he said, ‘God measures us by how we take care of the least capable among us.’ And he told my whole family, ‘You should all vote for this.’”

His upbringing shaped what he calls a liberal Christian point of view. Both parents were union members, and he credits his father with instilling a “compassion and emotional sensitivity” that eventually sparked an interest in civil rights law. After graduating from UCLA and the University of San Diego School of Law, Gill was hired by a firm that specialized in the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

“After about a year I put up my own shingle and started practicing,” Gill says. His career has been based in civil courts with employment discrimination cases leading to work with labor unions. In 2008 Gill decided to pursue a second law degree in labor law. He would eventually earn that degree from the University of Melbourne in Australia, traveling there by plane to attend classes for 10 days at a stretch. (It was cheaper and warmer than Cornell Law School, Gill explains.) But first he and his wife wanted to find a new place to live, and she suggested driving north.

“We found our community in Crescent City,” Gill says.

He soon landed a job with the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 representing employees of Del Norte County. While representing mental health workers, Gill grew frustrated with the lack of adequate funding for programs helping people with dual diagnoses, meaning they have both a mood disorder and substance abuse issues. Gill spoke with his state senator, Sam Aanestad, who was in negotiations with the then-Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg.

“And he just didn’t care,” Gill says of Aanestad. “He was completely unsympathetic. He was termed out, but I was so angry about it that I decided to run for state senate.”

Gill was the 2010 Democratic nominee for California Senate District 4, which at the time extended from the northwest corner of the state down into the Central Valley, encompassing Redding, Chico and Yuba City — Republican territory. 

“It was tilting at windmills, and I knew it at the time,” Gill says. His adversary, the cowboy-hat-wearing, Trump-hand-shaking conservative Doug La Malfa, wasn’t imaginary, though he did prove formidable, handily defeating Gill in the general election by a margin of more than two-to-one. But Gill says he learned a lot about how elections work and, while traveling around the district, had frank conversations with people in communities he’d never visited before.

Gill worked for the union full time the following year, landing a job as a field director supervising workers from Marin County all the way north to the state line. In that role he represented court workers in Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin counties as well as employees in the Del Norte County District Attorney’s office. The job familiarized Gill with the court administrative office.

“I think I’m more aware than your typical judge or judicial candidate of how court operations work,” he said. And if he wins the election Gill says he’ll use whatever influence he has from the bench to advocate for services such as the homeless outreach program, drug diversion and addiction court. programs he believes are effective in reducing petty crime.

Gill and his family moved to Humboldt County in 2013 after he landed his current job representing employees with the California Teachers Association.

“We’re really happy to be here,” Gill says. “I love the quirky restaurants and beaches. Moonstone Beach is like the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.” 

Asked why he’s running for a judgeship, Gill says, “It seems like an area where you can make a difference in the community.” When Arcata native Gregory Elvine-Kreis, with whom Gill had attended law school and worked at California Indian Legal Services, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, “I thought now it’s really time. I should do this,” Gill recalls.

His experience trying cases in court is somewhat limited. “I have a couple of jury trials and I’ve had a couple of bench trials,” he says. But with his civil court work, which has included arbitrations, mediations and collective bargaining, Gill feels he’s well situated to step in and help with the caseload at the Humboldt County Superior Court.

“Most of the judges on our bench have a criminal background, and I’ve heard from various lawyers that having a civil background on the bench here would be helpful,” Gill says.

Asked whether he would bring a judicial philosophy to the position, Gill says his San Diego professors believed in incrementalism, which emphasizes rulings based on established case law rather than broad social ideals, but he came to a different perspective.

“I’ve been somewhat disillusioned by my experience in the union movement because I believe that the legal system is rigged for the people in power,” he says. “The rules are made by the people that already have power.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m going to nullify the law,” he continues. What matters is ensuring that the law is fair, he says.

Would he be a so-called activist judge?

“Activist is in the eye of the beholder,” Gill responds. “When people say ‘activist judge’ it really just means, ‘They’re activist in a way I don’t like.’ [The late Supreme Court] Justice [Antonin] Scalia was a pretty activist judge, in my opinion.”

Gill says that as someone who comes from a religion with a history of persecution, he would be especially sensitive to litigants who also may feel persecuted. His campaign website mentions his work representing “people with disabilities, whistleblowers, people of color, small businesses, workers, teachers, and LGBTQ.”

He also has some ideas about how court efficiency might be improved.

“I am less concerned with the needs of the profession than with the needs of the community, and having experience in courts all over the state I have perspectives on the way things are done,” he says. “For example, Humboldt County has a tradition of half-day trials, which I think is actually a really big burden on jurors, and employers.”

He believes improvements in the court’s case management system could relieve some of the congestion, though he said he’s not worried about the massive caseload that some say contributed to a public admonishment from the California Commission on Judicial Performance for the man Gill is running to replace, Judge Dale Reinholtsen.

“Well, when I worked for SEIU as a field director I was working 90-hour weeks, so I expect I can manage it,” Gill says.

Asked whether his background in (primarily) labor and employment law has adequately prepared him to adjudicate cases in criminal court, Gill points out that it will be up to the presiding judge where he gets assigned. But he reiterated that his civil court background may be exactly what’s needed. 

“The three judges who were most recently appointed were all public defenders, so there’s plenty of people in the courthouse who can handle criminal law,” he says, adding, “and it’s not that complicated.”

A few moments later, though, he circles back:

“With that said, it is a very specialized area of law and there’s a lot of things I don’t know that I would have to learn, but I am confident that I can manage that.”

He says he’s worked with a wide variety of citizens in courts all over the state. “And the kind of experience I’ve gotten in that work has involved creative problem-solving and particularly negotiations… . in my civil work I’ve done motions, I’ve done appeals, I’ve done the kinds of reading and writing and thinking that you have to do to be successful as a judge.”

Gill is running against Eureka attorney Lawrence Killoran, whose Outpost interview will be published soon. California’s June primary election will be held on Tuesday, June 5.


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OBITUARY: Alfred ‘Al’ Joseph Christen, 1934-2018

LoCO Staff / Friday, April 13 @ 6:45 a.m. / Obits

Alfred “Al” Joseph Christen, born February 1st, 1934, passed away in the early hours of April 9th. Son of George and Mary Christen, he leaves behind his wife of 55 years, Toni; two sons, Bart and Mark; a daughter-in-law, Tina; three grandchildren, Frankie, Hannah, and AJ; his grand-dog, Charlie; his brother Clifford, his sisters Eleanor, Carolyn (Howard) and Aileen, his sister and brother-in-law Libby and Frank Cerny; and with many nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his parents, his sister Cecilia, his brother Raymond (Dolly), and his nephew Frank (Frankie) Cerny Jr.

Al was born in Ferndale the sixth of seven children. He graduated from Ferndale High School in 1952 and began working for Pacific Lumber before joining the service in 1955. He was stationed in Orléans, France, returning home in 1957 with his favorite car, a light blue 1956 Austin Healey. Upon his return, Al began his 18-year career as a beer salesman. He met his wife and life partner in 1961, marrying in 1962. Building their first home in Eureka, the two started their family. In 1976, Al obtained his contractor’s license, founded his small business — Chris Customs Building — moved to Willow Creek, and began building homes in the Bigfoot subdivision. In his later years, Al transitioned his contracting business to cabinet making.

Al and Toni were a perfect match. The two loved nothing more than going out to the shop, lighting a fire on a cold day, and woodworking. Together they created cabinets, tables and cutting boards that serve as works of art. He deeply enjoyed watching his sons and grandchildren participate in athletics, attending every game he could. His sense of humor was not appropriate for church, but his infectious laugh was enough to make anyone giggle at improper times. All the same, he is looking down from heaven with a scotch on the rocks in hand.

He will be remembered for his generous nature, donating countless pieces to school auctions and admirers of his craft. Al was the president of the Willow Creek Lions Club and a leader of a Webelos troop. He built the Arrow of Light bridge that is still used in the local area today by Cub Scouts bridging to Boy Scouts. He was a teacher at heart, spreading his knowledge of woodworking with his grandchildren, friends, and all who knew him. In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Services will be held at Sanders Funeral Home on Saturday, April 21st at 1 p.m., followed by a reception at the Wharfinger Building at 2 p.m.

His family would like to offer special thanks to Lionel Lee, Jennifer and Michael Yarborough, Tony and Janice Cerny, Tina Christen, Jake Morris, Washington Elementary School’s Fourth Grade Class, the PC Unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Dr. Palacios and all those who have touched our lives.

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The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Al Christen’s family. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here.



OBITUARY: Bill Howard Wright II, 1957-2018

LoCO Staff / Friday, April 13 @ 6:45 a.m. / Obits

Bill H. Wright II was born July 9th, 1957, in Eureka, and passed away April 8th, 2018 with his family by his side.

He enlisted into the U.S. Army and served his country during the Vietnam Era.

He was a stubborn, big-hearted man and a skilled mechanic who loved classic cars and always spoke what was on his mind. He was a grandfather, father, brother, uncle and anyone who knew him a friend.

He is survived by his son, Bill Howard Wright III; daughter, Angela Maria Louise Wright; sister, Edith Louise Root; daughter in-law, Lymari Wright; grandsons Dominic Wright and Christian Tapia; granddaughter, Destiny Wright; and other family members.

Bill believed and said that “every day was truly a new day to begin anew,” “you should never be sorry, just be yourself” and to “drive it until the wheels fall off.”

Bill will be missed but not forgotten. His memory will live on through his family and those who knew him.

Philippians 3:21 — He will take our weak and mortal bodies and change them into Glorious Bodies like His own.

A private ceremony will be held at a later date.

Arrangements are being prepared by Humboldt Cremation and funeral service in Eureka.

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The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Bill Wright’s family. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here.



Another Delay in Case of Eureka Man Accused of Molesting Two Girls

Rhonda Parker / Thursday, April 12 @ 4:34 p.m. / Courts

Accused child molester Chad Alan Smith reluctantly agreed today to a delay in his second jury trial.

Chad Smith

Smith, accused of molesting two young girls, has been through a number of lawyers and one mistrial. The jury had been selected when the defense had to declare a conflict.

His latest attorney is Andrea Sullivan, who practices out of Lake County and Ukiah but also takes some cases in Humboldt County. Sullivan spoke with Smith privately for some time, finally convincing him she couldn’t be ready for trial in 60 days.

Smith addressed Judge John Feeney, saying he is torn about how to proceed. If he agrees to a time waiver, he said, “I’ll be pushed so far out (in the trial schedule.) That overwhelms me because I’ve been here for awhile.”

On the other hand, Smith said, he’s been through “quite a few attorneys” and wants one who’s prepared. He eventually said he’d decided to trust Sullivan.

Smith, 43, has been in Humboldt County Correctional Facility since his arrest in June 2017. If convicted of the numerous charges against him, he could be sent to prison for life. He was a business owner and substitute teacher before he was jailed.

During Smith’s preliminary hearing, a Eureka teen testified Smith began molesting her when she was 10. They began having sexual intercourse when she was 11, the girl said, and the relationship continued until she was 14.

Another teen testified that one occasion when she was 11, Smith placed his hand under her shirt and stroked the area between her breasts and vagina.
Feeney set a May 11 court date for further discussion.

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Gud Luk, Keeds! Fore Humbolt Stoodents Heded Too Staet Spelin Be

Andrew Goff / Thursday, April 12 @ 4:20 p.m. / Education , LoCO Sports!

(Note to local youthful spelling gods: After you kids are done whipping your geographically inferior competitors, please come help LoCO with our werdz.) 

Humboldt County Office of Education release below: 

 

Four students are headed for State Spelling Bee competitions after successfully spelling their way through the 35th Annual Humboldt County Spelling Bee held at the Humboldt County Office of Education’s Sequoia Conference Center.

The countywide competition drew an audience of 100 supporters who watched intently as 19 regional champions —10 at the elementary school level (4th – 6th grades) and 9 at the junior high school level (7th – 9th grades) — carefully responded to words posed by the Bee’s Spelling Master Nanette Voss, actor and English and Theatre Teacher at Eureka High School. The 19 students represented the top spellers in the county, as they qualified for this event by winning school and regional spelling bees held earlier this year.

Great Spellers - L: Dehority; R: Pitts

In the elementary division, students compete orally and are eliminated with their first misspelled word. This year, students spelled 126 words including “chapeau” and “miscellaneous,” before the contest advanced to tie-breaker rounds with three students remaining.  After a record seven tie-breaking words, ultimately two Co-Champions were determined: Aurora Pitts, a 5th grader from Alder Grove Charter School, and Jackson Dehority, a 5th grader from Jacoby Creek School.

More Great Spellers - L: Wagner; R: Hansen

Junior high students compete in a written contest based on a 4-word miss. After spelling 35 words, including “abeyance” and “nihilism”, Abigail Wagner, a 7th grader at Alder Grove Charter School, and Kai Hansen, a 8th grader at Sunny Brae Middle School, were named Co-Champions.

The four champions will now compete in the State Competitions. Pitts and Dehority will compete May 12 in Stockton, and Wagner and Hansen will compete May 5 in San Rafael. The Humboldt County Spelling Bee is sponsored by the Humboldt County Office of Education’s Rising Stars Foundation with the support of local schools. The Foundation is providing the four students necessary funds for travel as well as paying their entrance fees.



JUDGE: Then-Teenage Murder Suspect Will be Tried as an Adult; Three Suspects in 2014 Killing of 14-Year-Old Boy Go to Trial Next Month

Rhonda Parker / Thursday, April 12 @ 4:11 p.m. / Courts

Joe Daniel Olivo III, charged with the gang-related murder of a 14-year-old Eureka boy, will be tried in adult court along with his father and another gang member.

Today Judge John Feeney granted Deputy District Attorney Brent Kling’s motion to transfer the 20-year-old Olivo III out of Juvenile Court, where if convicted he could have been out of custody in two years. Now he will be tried with his father, Joe Olivo II, and Mario Nuñez. All three are accused of gang-related first-degree murder and face life in prison without possibility of parole.

Olivo III.

“It must be emphasized,” Feeney said in making his ruling, “that a 14-year-old boy was stabbed and killed, and it’s alleged that Mr. Olivo personally inflicted the fatal wounds.”

Olivo III had just turned 17 when he allegedly knifed Garcia in an act of gang revenge. Garcia reportedly had told people Olivo III requested protective custody while in Juvenile Hall.

Olivo III had been living in San Luis Obispo, but his father allegedly picked him up and brought him to Eureka. According to previous court testimony, the Olivos and Nuñez came to the P Street apartment where Garcia was hiding in fear. He died hours after being stabbed three times.

During a two-day hearing last week, defense attorney Andrea Sullivan argued Olivo III was under orders from his father, and if he wouldn’t have killed the boy he would have been killed himself.

Feeney said the father “played a significant role,” but he pointed out Olivo III continued to commit crimes on his own while his father was locked in state prison. Olivo II, a member of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, has been in Pelican Bay State Prison a number of times.

It was more than a year after Garcia’s death that the Olivos and Nuñez were arrested and charged. During that time Olivo III lived in San Luis Obispo, where he admitted four times to probation violation. Once, he acknowledged he tried to buy a gun from a fellow Sureño gang member.

In Humboldt County, where Olivo III was first placed on probation at age 14, he violated probation three times. He once escaped from Juvenile Hall by climbing a fence and running.

Feeney said Olivo III is apparently a “capable and intelligent individual.” Unfortunately, the judge said, he “has demonstrated a knowledge of gang politics, gang hierarchy and gang power structures.”

One of the issues Feeney had to consider was whether there is enough time for Olivo III to be rehabilitated if he stayed in the juvenile system. Considering he would be released six months before he turns 23, the time is too short, the judge said.

Olivo III did not seem surprised by the ruling and showed no reaction.

The Olivos and Nuñez are scheduled to be in court May 11 for a trial confirmation hearing. The jury trial is scheduled to begin May 21.

Today defense attorney Sullivan said she may file a motion to the continue the trial, and also may request that Olivo III’s bail amount be reviewed. He is being held on bail of $1 million.

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Conservation Groups Propose Ban on Trapping Humboldt Martens in Oregon

John Ross Ferrara / Thursday, April 12 @ 3:24 p.m. / Activism , wildlife


A rare Humboldt Marten bounding by a trail camera. Photo by Mark Linnell | U.S. Forest Service.

Conservation groups filed a joint petition last week to ban the trapping of Humboldt Martens in Oregon’s costal forests.

The Center of Biological Diversity announced on April 4, that the petition was submitted to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in regards to a new study, which measured the effects trapping could has on the rare mustelid.

“A newly published scientific study concluded that Humboldt martens are so rare in Oregon that trapping just two to three individuals could result in wiping out the population on the central coast,” the CBD stated in a press release. “In addition to trapping, Humboldt martens are threatened by vehicle collisions on Highway 101 and ongoing logging of mature forest habitat.”

Photo by Charlotte Eriksson | Oregon State University.

Trapping Martens was banned in California decades ago, but trapping Martens in Oregon is still legal.

Although the subspecies was assumed to be either extremely rare or extinct prior to being rediscovered in 1996, the Humboldt Martin is not federally protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The government’s decision to not include the Humboldt Marten in the Endangered Species Act resulted in the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015.

The Times-Standard reports that a judge overruled the FWS’s decision to not include the Humboldt Marten on the endangered species list last year, forcing the department to reconsider its decision.

Photo by Mark Linnell | U.S. Forest Service.

As of today, the Marten has still not been given special status under the Endangered Species Act, but it is a candidate to be listed as endangered by the State of California.

The Oregon petition was filed by Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Oregon Wild. The ODFW has 90 days to make a ruling or deny the petition.