DOWNIEVILLE- On Tuesday, July 9, Alleghany's Sixteen to One Mine President Mike Miller and Mine Manager Jonathan Farrell were arraigned
in Superior Court on charges of felony manslaughter stemming from a mine accident in November, 2000.
In the accident, miner Mark Fussell was killed when he ran a trammer under a chute which protruded into the haulage way, breaking his neck.
According to the charges, Miller as CEO and Farrell as Mine Manager, were criminally negligent in allowing a violation of OSHA standards which consequently killed Fussell.
District Attorney O'Sullivan's charges allege the unmarked chute and a faulty trammer were responsible for the death.
The charges carry penalties of up to three years in state prison, plus a fine of up to $250,000.
The federal Mine Health and Safety Administration investigated the incident, as did both the state's Occupational Health and Safety Administration and, as required by law, the mine itself.
The usual process of investigation seems to have been halted by criminal charges. Both MSHA and Cal-OSHA issued citations over the incident, which the mine appealed in the requisite 15 days.
According to Farrell, he was notified by Cal-OSHA that the appeal hearing had been post-poned indefinitely. He learned last week that criminal charges had been laid by District Attorney O'Sullivan.
Under state law, investigatory and regulatory agencies may only bring civil citations. They do not have authority to prefer criminal charges: only District Attorneys and the Attorney General have that power.
Nevertheless, when asked why she had preferred the felony charges, rather than two other criminal complaint options, O'Sullivan told The Messenger "Oh, I don't know anything about that. You'll have to ask the California District Attorneys Association lawyer.”
The same crime may be charged as a misdemeanor, felony, or charges may be aimed at the corporation.
Ms. Mejlszenkier has been deputized by O'Sullivan for the case against Miller and Farrell and represented the DA at the arraignment.
At that proceeding, the formal presentation of the charges to the accused, Superior Court Judge Bill Skillman strongly urged the pair to obtain legal counsel.
Farrell explained he would be hiring a lawyer. Miller simply stated he was representing himself.
Following Skillman's offer to postpone the process, Farrell explained he preferred not to waive his rights to a speedy trial. "If it will help to expedite the process, I'm prepared to plead not guilty right now," he told Skillman.
Skillman immediately accepted not guilty pleas from both men and released the pair without bail. The preliminary hearing, where the prosecution is to put forth sufficient evidence to convince a judge a trial is merited, was set for Monday, July 22. In an aside to the Court Clerk, Skillman gave the impression he would recuse himself from the case.
The pair were then sent to the Sheriff's office where they were formally arrested, then released.
O'Sullivan has deputized at least four of the CDAA employed attorneys throughout her three and a half-year tenure. Larry Allen, the D.A.-elect, currently works for CDAA in the Environmental division.
Ms. Mejlszenkier is employed by the CDAA's relatively new and well-funded Worker Safety division.
The CDAA's "hired gun" programs are funded with both public and private money. Their freelance lawyers work with state agencies developing cases, which are then presented to a county District Attorney, with an offer to prosecute for that worthy, with no cost to the county.
The safeguard of the system, D.A.-elect Allen explains, is that the final authority for preferring the charges rests with the county's District Attorney, who is theoretically responsible to the people, being elected every four years. Consequently CDAA is not, he insists, a private investigatory and prosecution service.
Various concerns have surfaced over the CDAA program. In a recent Cal-OSHA case in Yolo County, charges against a farmer were dismissed in the preliminary hearing. Veteran lawyers explain the burden of proof is so low in a preliminary hearing that charges are almost never dropped at that stage.
The Yolo County case has given rise to speculation the supervision given the CDAA hired guns is considerably less than claimed.
Editor, Mountain Messenger