Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jail Time for Trimming Trees in State Park

This story from the Sonoma Press Democrat reminds of a case I had once where a homeowner trimmed some trees (well he felled them actually) on State Park lands adjacent to his property, as the neighbor had told him it was ok.

He was mortified to find out it was not of and that he may face jail time and a very stiff fine and restititution. My client settled out of court without a trial and no criminal record. It's a shame this guy's lawyer didn't work out a deal to prevent the outcome. Sending a hedge fund manager in front of a jury in these economic times not such a good ploy.

Of course, I do not know all the facts and so cannot really second guess that decision.

Read on:

Jail time for trimming trees in state park
Mendocino County jury convicts SF hedge fund manager of vandalism
By MIKE GENIELLATHE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 4:30 a.m. Last Modified: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 3:42 a.m.
UKIAH -- A wealthy San Francisco hedge fund manager faces five days in Mendocino County Jail after being convicted of illegally trimming trees along a popular trail in Van Damme State Park, which adjoins his luxury vacation retreat.
Derek Webb, 49, a benefactor to North Bay land trusts and environmental groups, is scheduled to begin serving the jail time on Oct. 7.
Webb's jail sentence was ordered after a Ukiah jury last Friday convicted the asset manager of a misdemeanor vandalism charge. Superior Court Judge Richard Henderson also ordered Webb to perform 50 hours of community service.
County prosecutors on Tuesday hailed Webb's conviction, saying that it sends a message that a "person's deeds as a public benefactor does not exempt him from the rule of law."
District Attorney Meredith Lintott said state parks representatives pushed for prosecution, and "We thank them for their role in protecting the public's land."
But Webb's attorney, Rod Jones of Mendocino, said Tuesday that the prosecution pronouncements left him "speechless," given that Webb had been convicted of a misdemeanor, not the felony sought by prosecutors. "Were they in the same courtroom?" asked Jones.
He said the jail sentence seems to be a stretch.
"Jurors understood what was at issue, and they didn't see it as a felony crime deserving jail time," said Jones.
Webb couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, but Jones said his client was deeply disappointed at the outcome, especially the jail sentence.
Webb's conviction stems from an incident in October, 2007 when a state parks official saw him using a chain saw to trim back tree branches along a heavily used trail on the south side of Van Damme park. Webb owns adjoining property, including a landmark coastal farm called Spring Ranch.
Prosecutors said coast parks Supt. Marilyn Murphy was off duty at the time and walking her dogs along the trail when she came upon Webb.
Murphy testified that Webb insisted he was only trying to help the state maintain the trail and that he thought it unnecessary to have to seek permission from the "bureaucracy."
Prosecutors told jurors that Webb seriously harmed the stand of tan oak, coast and Monterey pine trees by trimming them improperly.
Jones said Webb is so dismayed by the local prosecution that he may rethink his involvement in community events.
Since 2006, Webb has hosted dinners and donated stays at his retreat, which features a restored six-bedroom Victorian house dating to the 1860s. Rental fees for a two-night stay ranges up to $1,563, according to the Spring Ranch Web site.
You can reach Staff Writer Mike Geniella at 462-6470 or mgeniella@pressdemocrat.com.

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