In the mail: “Scorched Worth”: new book on Moonlight Fire/Sierra Pacific case

The Sierra Pacific/Moonlight Fire scandal developed after the state of California and federal governments combined legal forces to go after a forest products company seeking to recoup millions of dollars spent fighting a fire that they claimed the company helped cause. Over the course of the ensuing litigation, judges charged a California state agency with “egregious and reprehensible conduct,” blasted the office of then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris for less-than-professional conduct, and brought in question the conduct of the U.S. Department of Justice under then-AG Eric Holder. We covered the story here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Now a new book on the story by author Joel Engel is out entitled “Scorched Worth: A True Story of Destruction, Deceit, and Government Corruption.” The author has an excerpt in the Weekly Standard (“What happens when the government lies about you in court?”). Here’s a fuller description of the book, from publisher Encounter:

To effect just outcomes the justice system requires that law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges be committed—above all—to doing justice. Those whose allegiance is to winning, regardless of evidence, do the opposite of justice: they corrupt the system. This is the jaw-dropping story of one such corruption and its surprise ending.

On Labor Day 2007, a forest fire broke out in California’s eastern Sierra Nevada and eventually burned about 65,000 acres. Investigators from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the United States Forest Service took a mere two days to conclude that the liable party was the successful forest-products company Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), founded as a tiny sawmill nearly sixty years earlier by Red Emmerson.

The investigative report on the fire declared that SPI’s independent logging contractor had started the conflagration by driving a bulldozer over a rock, creating a spark that flew into a pile of brush. No fire had ever been proven to start that way, but based on the report the U.S. Department of Justice and California’s attorney general filed nearly identical suits against Emmerson’s company. The amount sought was nearly a billion dollars, enough to bankrupt or severely damage it. Emmerson, of course, fought back.

Week by week, month by month, year by year, his lawyers discovered that the investigators had falsified evidence, lied under oath, fabricated science, invented a narrative, and intentionally ignored a mountain of exculpatory evidence. They never pursued a known arsonist who was in the area that day, nor a young man who repeatedly volunteered alibis contradicted by facts.

Though the government lawyers had not known at the start that the investigation was tainted, they nonetheless refused to drop the suits as the discovery process continued and dozens of revelations made clear that any verdict against Emmerson’s company would be unjust.

Scorched Worth is a riveting tale that dramatizes how fragile and arbitrary justice can be when those empowered to act in the name of the people are more loyal to the bureaucracies that employ them than to the people they’re supposed to serve. It’s also the story of a man who refused to let the government take from him what he’d spent a lifetime earning.

The book can be ordered here.


  • Why do they still have law licenses?

    Let’s take a thought experiment–why can’t Sierra Pacific spend unlimited funds to settle scores with Kamala Harris, i.e., torpedoing her presidential aspirations (or getting her turned out of her Senate seat)? If the First Amendment means anything, it means that people (including those who operate through the corporate form) can defend themselves to the fullest extent of their abilities against rapacious politicians.

    The problem, once again, is that there are no consequences to those who act this way–they move on with their careers. Prison time, and stiff prison time (like 20 years) seems to be what is called for.

    When government acts like this, it is in the realm of power, and the monopoly on force does not seem to be appropriate or moral.

    • “why can’t Sierra Pacific spend unlimited funds to settle scores with Kamala Harris, i.e., torpedoing her presidential aspirations (or getting her turned out of her Senate seat)?”

      Because Sierra Pacific doesn’t HAVE unlimited funds to spend on anything.

      • My point was more along the lines of the problems with campaign finance limits as shown by situations like these.

  • And, pray tell, what sanctions were imposed upon the liars? And if the answer is “none”, why should this behavior not be repeated?

  • Kamala Harris has an unswerving loyalty to politics.She’ll be harder to beat than Hillary.
    I handicap her odds at 1 in 10 for 2020 if she announces. If she builds a strong fundraising machine as a Senator, I’d give her 1 in 4 for 2024.

    The “Add to Cart” link at Joe Engel’s site returns this message:

    “success”:false,”status”:”Error”,”message”:”No item found with ISBN 9781594039812″

  • Fixed now.