A federal judge has fined the State of California nearly $1 million — an unusually large punishment — for destroying evidence in an environmental case that the Santa Barbara News Press has dubbed “Targate.”
As Breitbart News noted last year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky recommended that the state be sanctioned because the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had destroyed potentially exculpatory evidence.
The company involved, formerly known as Greka Oil & Gas Inc., and now known as HVI Cat Canyon Inc. (HVI-CC), had been accused of spilling oil and “produced water” at its leases near Santa Barbara, where it produced organic tar.
While most companies fold when faced with enforcement action by the state and federal governments, HVI stood its ground. In the ensuring court battle, it emerged that California officials disregarded a “litigation hold” and destroyed data
In his ruling on HVI’s request to be compensated for attorney’s fees, the special master reviewing the case wrote: “The State should have come forward promptly to admit the problem and to recommend solutions. Instead, HVI had to scratch and dig, confer and ponder to determine the nature and extent of the spoliation and resultant damage. … Time was of the essence.”
After further review of the state’s request to have the fees reduced, the special master, retired judge William McCurine, awarded the full $956,783 that HVI had requested. The court also rejected the state’s request to have the fees withheld until the end of the litigation, which HVI did not succeed in having dismissed.
In another controversy emerging from the case, an EPA official was alleged to have made a racist, homophobic threat against HVI executives, suggesting they would be raped in prison by “Leroy.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.