California Lawyer is running a cover story about the Moonlight Fire litigation under the slogan “Scorched Earth,” a reference to the continuing intensity of the dispute. The piece focuses on Assistant U.S. Attorney E. Robert Wright and his role as the federal government’s first attorney on the case:
As Wright walked the burned-over ground with the lead investigators for the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), he didn’t know this case would produce its own scorched earth. Still raging seven years later, related litigation in state and federal courts would pit Wright’s ethical standards against those of his bosses, precipitate his retirement from government service, and eventually prompt him to assist the very timber company he had sued for negligence. Wright’s declaration-filed with the Justice Department in an ethics complaint and later in federal court-bolstered Sierra Pacific’s allegations that state and federal prosecutors aided in evidence tampering and the withholding of documents and—worst of all—engaged in a fraud on the court.
The government, as we learned earlier, responded in kind:
But U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner says it is Downey Brand that has acted unethically. Wagner’s office is seeking to disqualify ten defense lawyers, from four firms, for allegedly accepting privileged information from Wright, and for encouraging him to breach his duty of loyalty to the government and to violate the attorney-client privilege.
Wright stands by his actions. “As a member of the bar for 40 years, I have a very, very strong belief that in a free country we cannot tolerate falsifications or obstructions of justice when government agents carry out investigations,” he said in an interview.