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Fire Tax — If you have filed a Petition for Redetermination in the past —

Fire Fees, State gov

PNP comment: New rules explained by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc., which is leading the lawsuit against the State of California. This is slowly winding its way through the court system, but so far HJTA is winning. Read more below. — Editor Liz Bowen

From Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.

June 3, 2016

Petitions: One and Done

Once you have filed a timely Petition for Redetermination, you do not need to keep submitting Petitions each year. At first, HJTA advised people to submit a new Petition each year. This was in case the Court only allowed refunds for years when people filed a Petition. But now, the Court has confirmed that people protesting the Fire Tax only need to file one timely Petition. If we win, that timely Petition will make you eligible for refunds for the first year you filed and all following years.

If you did not protest the Fire Tax the first year you paid it, you may still be able to protest it! Correspondence with the BOE and CalFire has indicated that a Petition for Redetermination may be submitted to protest all the years the Fire Tax has been paid. The staff persons with whom we corresponded may not be the final authority on this question, but according to them you may check all the boxes on the form for the years you have paid. Please note that Petitions for Redetermination must still be postmarked within 30 days of the date on your bill. Petitions received outside of this time period may be considered invalid. If you have any uncertainty about whether you filed a timely Petition the first year you paid the Fire Tax, you may submit a Petition the next time your receive your bill and check the boxes for all the years you paid. Updated Petitions for the 2015-2016 billing cycle are available on our website at


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Millions of dollars in California fire prevention money goes unspent

Fire Fees, FIRES, State gov

Oct. 3, 2015


By Jim Miller

Amid a drought that has created bone-dry conditions across much of California’s wildland area, a state fire prevention account has ended recent fiscal years with tens of millions of dollars unspent.
The money has been generated by a contentious, four-year-old fee pushed through by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats over the objections of Republicans and rural property owners. The state collected more than $300 million through June and spent about $260 million, including roughly $228 million on administration and statewide prevention activities, vegetation clearing, defensible space inspections and other programs. About $22 million went to a state tax agency to cover collection costs.
But as fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres this year, the state ended the fiscal year in June with an estimated $43 million in fee money left over.
“We made a lot of people in the Legislature take a vote on this fee that they never really liked. But then to collect the money and just sit on it, and not deploy it in ways to help make those communities safer, is just silly,” said Paul Mason, vice president of policy and incentives at Pacific Forest Trust, a forest protection group.
More than 800,000 property owners pay the fee, most of them $117.33 a year for each habitable structure. Property owners in parts of the foothills east of Sacramento, as well as those in communities such as Shingle Springs, Georgetown and Pollock Pines, are subject to the charge.
The money is intended to support fire prevention activities in the almost one-third of California where the state has the primary firefighting responsibility. Nearly three-quarters of the 31 million-acre area – mostly privately owned watershed, rangeland and forested areas outside city limits – presents a very high or high fire risk.
In the devastating Valley and Butte fires, state responsibility lands made up more than 80 percent of the areas burned. As of Friday, the Valley fire in Lake County had burned more than 76,000 acres, and destroyed 1,958 homes and other structures. The Butte fire in the Sierra foothills had burned 71,000 acres and destroyed 475 homes. Authorities have confirmed the deaths of four people in the Valley fire and two in the Butte fire.
Statewide since January, more than 5,300 fires have torched almost 300,000 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The toll would have been worse without activities and projects funded by the fire prevention fee, state officials said.
Yet officials said they have proceeded cautiously in spending the prevention fee money because they were not sure how much money the charge would bring in.
We do want to maintain a prudent reserve for unforeseen circumstances.
Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer
“Given the fact that it’s a relatively new fund, there’s not a long track record on receipts. We do want to maintain a prudent reserve for unforeseen circumstances,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said.
The fund’s reserve, however, is much higher than that of the typical special fund. The fire fund began the current fiscal year with reserves totaling more than half of the prevention money the fee produced last year. By comparison, state special funds’ total reserves averaged about one-quarter of annual revenue in 2014-15. The state’s multibillion-dollar general fund ended June with reserves of just 3.5 percent.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who sits on the budget subcommittee that oversees Cal Fire, rejected the idea that the fire fund’s large reserve reflects prudence.
“They’re hoarding it,” he said. “What for, I don’t know.”
Some have suggested the state may have one eye on the courts, where it is fighting a lawsuit filed by critics who contend the fee is an illegal tax.
In August, a Sacramento County judge elevated the case to class-action status, and a trial date is expected next year. If the state ultimately loses, the fee revenue would disappear and the state would face refunding an estimated 12,000 property owners eligible for the class.
Refunding five years of fees to landowners who filed a required protest would cost more than $7 million. Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston, echoing a common belief, said he thinks the large balance in the fire prevention fund reflects officials’ concern the state will lose the case.
Palmer rejected that notion. “If we budgeted on the assumption we’re going to lose every lawsuit, fiscal planning for the state would come to a screeching halt,” he said.
Lawmakers approved ABx1 29 in June 2011, creating a new State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund.
The fee has proven to be more costly than usual to collect. About 10 percent of people initially do not pay the charge, said former lawmaker George Runner, a member of the state Board of Equalization, which spent $8.9 million of the fee money in the last budget year to collect the fee. The typical noncompliance rate is about 3 percent, he said.
“It really gets expensive for us when we have to chase after such a low amount,” Runner said.
Lawmakers approved the fee in June 2011, during the recession, as a way to help prevent budget cuts to Cal Fire. The fee was fair, some supporters said, because more people living in rural areas raised the state’s firefighting costs.
Elected officials soon began raising concerns about the unspent balances.
“I just don’t want money sitting there when there’s a lot of prevention to be had and an increase in the number of fires,” then-Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who voted for the fee, said early last year, when fires were burning around the state. “You spend the reserves during the most crucial times.”
Weston, a former Cal Fire unit chief who pays the fire prevention charge, said there’s no excuse for all of the unspent money in the fund.
“Statewide, they’re collecting $75 million (a year), during one of the worst droughts, in one of worst fire seasons, and the best thing would have been to add a bunch of inspectors. They didn’t do that,” Weston said.
“I guarantee you that the biggest bang for your buck is you do prevention. It’s not glorious. (Fighting fires) looks good on the news,” he said. “But who knows? They could reduce the threat to some homes.”
They’re hoarding it.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber
In the last budget year, nearly 150 local fire prevention councils as well as other applicants competed for fee-funded grants to clear brush, remove trees and other projects.
Organizations in Weston’s county and elsewhere applied for the money, but demand far exceeded the $9.5 million the state set aside for the purpose. Among the projects losing out were proposals by the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County to remove flammable vegetation and dead trees from around the homes of low-income senior citizens and disabled residents.
Organizations awarded local grants included fire safe councils in Lake County, which received approval in mid-March for $188,000 worth of projects to create a second evacuation route from Anderson Springs and clear vegetation in the Cobb area. The money recently became available, in the midst of the fire season, and the work had not been started before the Valley fire roared through those areas.
“It was money we wouldn’t have gotten any other way. We were just thrilled with what we were going to be able to do,” said Liz Black of the South Lake Fire Safe Council, who lives in the Jerusalem Valley and has been evacuated four times this year. “At this point I don’t know what’s going to happen” with the money.
The state cut the money available for local assistance grants this year, allocating $5 million – one-half of last year’s total. Instead, the state gave $5 million more to another department, the California Conservation Corps, which has handled some fire prevention activities in the past.
Other questions have surfaced about how the state uses the money.
This year, the administration proposed spending fee revenue to help carry out a new law meant to help protect Native American cultural resources during the environmental review process. It argued that the law affects Cal Fire’s plans for vegetation management.
Cal Fire “should not propose funding from fire prevention funds for CEQA archeological and cultural requirements,” a Senate committee report advised. The final budget paid for the law from another source.
The Legislature has allowed Cal Fire to use fee revenue to pay for litigation to recover money from people who accidentally start fires. Pursuing the cases, officials said, encourages people to be more careful and prevent fires in the state responsibility area.
Legislative attorneys, though, have warned that using the money that way likely runs afoul of Proposition 26, the 2010 voter-approved law which requires that any fee provide a direct benefit to the person paying it. Any money recovered goes into the state’s general fund, where it can be used for any purpose.
“Civil cost recovery is all about one thing – it’s about getting more money for government. That’s what the goal of the fire tax has been from the beginning,” Nielsen said. “It’s got nothing to do with prevention.”
31 million Number of acres in the state responsibility area, almost one-third of California
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit trying to overturn the charge say such spending proves their point. They contend the fee is really a tax that should have required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, not the fee bill that passed on a majority vote.
Tim Biddle, an attorney for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, one of the plaintiffs in the case, acknowledges the fee likely is paying for some brush clearing or inspections that directly benefit the people who pay it.
But hundreds of thousands of fee-payers are not receiving such services, he said, while fee money has helped pay for such work as post-fire data analysis and public education campaigns that offer no direct benefit to state responsibility area property owners.
“If you look at how the fee has actually been expended … it clearly looks like it is being spent on services and programs that benefit the general public, not the payers,” he said.
Jim Miller: 916-326-5521, @jimmiller2

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Conference call on CA Fire Tax 5-13-15

Fire Fees, State gov


Telephone Townhall on Fire Tax May 13

Don’t miss your opportunity to have your questions answered!
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal will join Board of Equalization Members Diane Harkey and George Runner as well as Senator Mike Morrell for an important telephone townhall on the fire tax this May 13 from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm.

Follow the instructions below to register for this informative meeting. The townhall is free, but you are required to register in advance to participate.



or call 844-829-8353.

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Lawsuit against CA Fire Tax moves slowly, grinds to a halt

Fire Fees, Lawsuits, State gov

From Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Assoc.

Senate Bill 520 no longer on the agenda at next week’s hearing

Earlier this week we emailed you about SB 520, a proposal by Senator Tom Berryhilll to repeal the fire tax.

This bill had been scheduled to be heard in committee on April 14th.

However, consideration of the bill has now been postponed.

We will keep you informed of the progress of SB 520 and how you can take action in opposition to the fire tax.

Please also be aware that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s lawsuit against this unfair tax continues to move forward and we will also be providing you with updates on the lawsuit’s progress as the case continues to move forward.

Thank you so much.

Fire Tax Protest.org

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HJTA has new protest forms available for California Fire Tax bill

Fire Fees, State gov


New protest forms now available for 2015

CalFire recently announced they will send a new round of fire tax bills, with counties beginning with the letter “A” receiving bills first.

It is important you file a protest every time you pay the fire tax so that you maximize your chances of receiving a refund if the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s class action lawsuit currently underway is successful.

Go to: Fire Tax Protest.org for more info

Although the lawsuit is moving forward slowly – partly as a result of its size and complexity and partly as a result of deliberate stalling by the state’s attorneys – another hearing has been scheduled and the public is invited to attend.

This hearing is on our “Motion to Certify Class,” which establishes your right to be represented in the case.

If you are interested in attending the hearing, mark your calendar with the following information:

Hearing: Motion to Certify Class (HJTA v. CalFire)
Date: June 12
Time: 11:00 am
Location: Sacramento Superior Court, Dept. 24
720 9th St, Sacramento, CA 95814

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Update from HJTA on lawsuit against CA Fire Prevention Fee TAX

Fire Fees, Illegal, Lawsuits, Liberty, State gov

From Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.

Our attorneys are reviewing 13,000 pages of documents

Many people affected by the fire tax have asked us when our lawsuit will be resolved.

With our state’s high unemployment and high poverty rates, we understand your frustration with this burdensome tax. Unfortunately lawsuits can take a long time and that is especially true here because this is a “class action” with lots of complicated procedures.

Our legal department is currently working on a phase of the case known as “discovery,” where both sides are given the opportunity to ask each other for relevant information.

After our attorneys sent the State’s lawyers formal questions and requests for important documents, the State sent back 13,000 pages of material.

Our attorneys are presently reviewing these documents in order to prepare for trial. We will continue to provide periodic updates regarding this matter.



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Assemblyman Brian Dahle reforms of SRA fee become law

Assemblyman Brian Dahle, Fire Fees, State gov

AB 2048 waives fee in disasters, reduces late penalties

A measure sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, to reform the state’s “fire prevention fee” will become law.

The Governor signed Assembly Bill 2048 on Tuesday, fixing some of the worst parts of the Cal Fire “fire prevention fee” imposed on residents of the mostly rural State Responsibility Area.
It waives the fee for homeowners who lose their residence to a wildfire or other natural disaster – commonsense relief that was not allowed under the original legislation. It reduces a steep penalty for late payment — 20 percent per month – to just 10 percent, in line with other state fees. It ends mandatory annual increases for inflation. And it streamlines appeal procedures.

“Like most North State residents, I’d rather see the fee simply repealed,” Dahle said. “In the meantime, this bill reforms some of the worst aspects of the fee. In particular, it was egregious that the law taxed homeowners who’d lost their homes to fire.”
Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, represents the 1st Assembly District, which includes Shasta, Lassen, Nevada, Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Sierra counties, and portions of Butte and Placer counties.

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California: Fire Prevention Fee — HOW TO DO REFUND FORM

Fire Fees, State gov

This info is from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc. that has filed a class-action suit against the State of California claiming the fee was incorrectly voted upon by the State Legislature and is, in reality, a tax.

The following info is recommended by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.




Challenging the Fee and Claiming a Refund

You must pay your bill.  PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE DUE DATE.  You may have fewer than 30 days to pay.  If you are late, steep penalties and interest are compounded monthly.  Moreover, the fee is a lien on your property, and failure to pay can result in foreclosure.

We at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association believe this fee is really an illegal tax under Proposition 13.  We plan to challenge the constitutionality of this tax in court.

Should we prevail, the court may order refunds.  To qualify for a refund you must have paid your bill and filed a “Petition for Redetermination” with the responsible agencies.

For convenience, we have posted the form below with the grounds for challenging the fee already filled in.  Page 2 contains instructions for completing the form.

When you pay your fee, we recommend that you write “under protest” on the notation line of your check.  Also, make a copy of the check so that you can enclose it with your Petition for Redetermination form, as proof of payment.

Although only one address appears at the bottom of the form, state law actually requires that you submit the form to three different addresses.  You must submit it WITHIN 30 DAYS OF THE DATE OF YOUR BILL to the three addresses below:

1.      Fire Prevention Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA 94585

2.      Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, P.O. Box 944246, Sacramento, CA 94244

3.      Board of Equalization, P.O. Box 942879, Sacramento, CA 94279

Download form at:



If you have further questions, click here.  This will take you to the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of this website.

To stay updated if any further actions need to be taken, sign up for our email updates.

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CalFire will begin mailing this year’s bills this month

Fire Fees, State gov


From Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association

March will mark the beginning of another round of fire tax bills from CalFire for people in the so-called State Responsibility Area. 
Taxpayers will soon begin receiving fire tax bills, and property owners in counties beginning with the letter “A” will receive bills first.
Fire tax bills will continue to come once a year until such a point as our lawsuit is resolved in our favor.
When you receive your bill, you can file the Petition for Redetermination found on FireTaxProtest.org again even if you have already filed it in previous years.  Filing the Petition for Redetermination annually is the safest way of ensuring your refund should we prevail.
Click here to like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association on Facebook.

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Judge blasts “corrupt” Cal Fire in wildfire lawsuit

Fire Fees, Lawsuits, State gov

Judge blasts ‘corrupt’ Cal Fire in wildfire lawsuit

By Dave Roberts, Calwatchdog, 2/19/14  

Superior Court Judge Leslie Nichols this month ruled that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection repeatedly deceived and withheld evidence in a lawsuit seeking $8.1 million from a company and several landowners for a wildfire that the company did not cause. The judge further found that $400,000 of that money was slated for an illegal Cal Fire slush fund. Cal Fire was represented by Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office.

Specifically, Nichols ruled: 

“This Court finds that Cal Fire has engaged in misconduct during the course of the litigation that is deliberate, that is egregious, and that renders any remedy short of dismissal inadequate to preserve the fairness of the trial.”

He cited “many acts of evasion, misdirection, and other wrongful acts and omissions,” including withholding thousands of pages of evidence. Because of that, Nichols’ ruling requires Cal Fire to reimburse the defendants’ court costs, plus a punitive 20 percent additional compensation. The award totals $32 million, with $24 million going to Sierra Pacific Industries and the remainder to the landowners and a logging company.

“This is a significant victory for SPI and the other defendants in the case” said SPI spokesman Mark Pawlicki in a statement. “Although the vast majority of Cal Fire employees conduct themselves with professional integrity, the investigators on this fire did not live up to that high standard.”

SPI’s lead attorney William Warne said, “After four years of litigation, we are relieved and thankful that justice has finally been done.”

But Cal Fire remains defiant. Spokeswoman Janet Upton told Law360, “We vigorously dispute many of the factual and legal findings included in this order,” adding that there may be an appeal. The attorney general’s office did not respond to requests by Law360 or the Sacramento Bee for comment.

Moonlight Fire

The litigation stemmed from the Moonlight Fire, which ignited on Labor Day 2007 in Lassen County, burning 65,000 acres over the next two weeks. Federal and state officials blamed the fire on a bulldozer for an SPI-contracted logging company hitting a rock and causing sparks on a red-flag, high-fire-danger day.

SPI settled the federal case for $47 million and 22,500 acres of land, according to Fordaq, a timber network news site. But the company, which owns nearly 1.9 million acres of timberland in California and Washington state, making it the second largest lumber producer in the country, fought the Cal Fire suit.

Much of the case focused on the investigation of the origin of the fire. Investigators Joshua White and Dave Reynolds located the origin of the fire at two points on or near a trail, placing white flags to mark the spots and taking photos. But that location apparently didn’t fit the bulldozer scenario, so Cal Fire sought to cover up the initial investigation.

Under oath, White denied placing white flags at those points and denied taking photos of them, according to the judge’s sanctions order. But five photos — not included in the official investigation report — were discovered showing the flags. White then admitted taking the photos, but initially denied that they showed a white flag, instead saying it “looked like a chipped rock.”

Reynolds also denied having anything to do with the white flags before eventually acknowledging them. In contrast with that sworn testimony, however, in an earlier meeting with Cal Fire’s lead attorney at the U.S. attorney’s office, Reynolds said he could see the white flags in the photos. Despite that contradiction, the attorneys allowed Reynolds to falsely testify about it in court, according to the ruling.

Wrote Nichols:

“This Court is deeply troubled by two things on this front: that one of the primary Moonlight investigators would admit one thing to a table of ‘friends’ and then refuse to admit the same thing once put under oath. The Court is perhaps even more troubled that Cal Fire’s lead counsel would be present at the meeting with Reynolds and still sit idly by as Reynolds, a person Cal Fire hired as a consultant, denied in his deposition what he had conceded in Cal Fire’s counsel’s presence several weeks earlier.”


That kind of judicial misconduct and obfuscation turned what would have been a simple matter of throwing Cal Fire’s unfounded case out of court into a four-year litigation nightmare for the defendants.

Nichols wrote:

“The fact that Defendants’ counsel were forced to depose these investigators under conditions where the investigators continually attempted to steamroll the truth by simply denying or expressing ignorance of the obvious greatly increased the expense of this litigation. Had they testified truthfully from the start, as required, Defendants would have likely spent nothing, or very little, as the case most likely could not have advanced.

“Unfortunately, Cal Fire’s lead counsel, officers of this Court, who should be ‘operating under a heightened standard of neutrality,’ greatly exacerbated the problem by failing to intercede and put a stop to what their witnesses were doing under oath. Doing nothing, permitting such testimony to take place, creates a tremendous burden on this Court by allowing a meritless matter to go forward when the lead attorneys in charge of its prosecution should be exercising their responsibility throughout to only advance just actions.”

The unethical conduct by Kamala Harris’ staff attorneys, Tracy Winsor and Daniel Fuchs, was unprecedented, according to Nichols. He wrote:

“The sense of disappointment and distress conveyed by the Court is so palpable, because it recalls no instance in experience over 47 years as an advocate and as a judge in which the conduct of the Attorney General so thoroughly departed from the high standard it represents and, in every other instance, has exemplified.”

No sanction

Consequently, the defendants asked Nichols to sanction Winsor and Fuchs.

But Nichols declined to do so, saying:

“[T]he record does not clearly establish that said attorneys directed or advised the egregious and reprehensible conduct of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Although there is plenty of evidence to support a strong suspicion, the evidence does not preponderate. This determination in no way speaks to issues of legal ethics or compliance with the requirements of the State Bar Act….”

The judge also criticized Cal Fire’s withholding of 7,000 pages of evidence (with potentially 40,000 more pages still being withheld) that concerned Cal Fire’s Wildland Fire and Investigation Training and Equipment Fund. “Cal Fire persistently attempted to cover up” the “illegal” fund, he ruled. That slush fund was also the focus of a critical state audit last year.

Cal Fire’s documentation on the fund was relevant because the agency was demanding that the defendants pay $400,000 into it. The court ordered Cal Fire to produce all of its documents on the fund by April 30, 2013. But after the audit was released in October, Sierra Pacific saw that a critical email referenced in the audit about the fund’s formation had been withheld by Cal Fire.

Cal Fire then admitted that it had “inadvertently” failed to produce that document along with more than 5,000 additional pages on the fund. After providing those documents on Oct. 31, 2013, Cal Fire’s lawyers assured the judge that that was “everything.” But on Nov. 22, Cal Fire produced more than 2,000 additional pages.

A number of those documents “reveal information that is inconsistent with the testimony of Cal Fire’s witnesses and with Cal Fire’s representations to this Court regarding Cal Fire’s own understandings regarding WiFITER and whether it was legal,” Nichols wrote. He called Cal Fire’s failure to produce the documents in time for them to be used in cross-examination during depositions “inexcusable.”


Some of the belatedly released documents support the defendants’ contention that Cal Fire officials had a bias toward affixing the blame for the fire on a company with deep pockets like SPI. They “were fixated on the cash flowing in and out of the illegal WiFITER account,” the ruling states. One email revealed that a Cal Fire official, Alan Carlson, “was seeking out ‘high % recoveries’ to keep WiFITER from ‘being in the red.’”

Other officials were worried about calling too much attention to the slush fund, because by law all of the money should have been deposited into the state’s General Fund.

Carlson “was rebuffed by his supervisor because Cal Fire’s general counsel had informed him that ‘the point is to keep a low profile,’ and if they take too large ‘a cut off the top of a recovery’ it might ‘look fishy,’” the ruling states, citing Cal Fire emails. The judge concluded, “This is the essence of scienter [knowledge of wrongdoing], and it certainly reveals that Cal Fire knew that its actions were improper, a fact which Cal Fire and its counsel failed to reveal ….”

Nichols summed up his assessment of Cal Fire and its lawyers’ conduct in the litigation, writing:

“The Court finds that Cal Fire’s actions initiating, maintaining, and prosecuting this action, to the present time, is corrupt and tainted. Cal Fire failed to comply with discovery obligations, and its repeated failure was willful. … Cal Fire’s conduct reeked of bad faith.”

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