It’s a Wrap – a Look at the Past Year and Decade

It is a no-news-is-good-news story for Visalia when it comes to the yearly wrap up.  The city has yet to make the top ten except when it canceled its Fourth of July fireworks show in 2015.

I thought the tide had turned for Tulare in 2019. Silly me.

Four out of the top ten stories on the Valley Voice website, and almost all the top stories on facebook, involve Tulare. 2018 was actually worse as it took a serial killer from Exeter to muscle its way past Tulare.

And Tulare spreads the love. The city made national news when Dr. Benny Benzeevi, then running the city’s hospital, hired an international spy group to meddle in an election. While attending a campaign event this fall, a Tulare resident told me that the scandal involving Dr. Benzeevi’s traveling to Israel to hire PsyOps to rig the hospital’s election is still a live story. Some Tulare residents have been contacted by investigative journalist Ronan Farrow from the New Yorker, who originally broke the story, for a possible HBO special.

And now the top ten.

  1. Her smile and laugh was the most contagious of anyone who knew her.”

This was a letter written to the Valley Voice by a grieving father explaining that, contrary to Visalia Times-Delta reporting, his daughter did not commit suicide. A VTD reporter assumed, because her friends were all wearing yellow at her funeral, that she killed herself. Actuality yellow was the teen’s favorite color.

  1. “Cannabis Companies Attempt to Bribe Hanford Landlord.”

In October two unidentified cannabis companies vying for a storefront permit bribed a landlord to stop his fight with the city insisting his tenant was a youth facility. WestCare was within the sensitive zone of the two companies’ stores, disqualifying them for a permit. To everyone’s shock the city insisted WestCare was not a youth facility and neither company was eliminated from the running. One of them, Harvest Hanford, actually got the permit.

  1. “Tulare PD and councilman butt heads again”

Tulare Police Officer Jarod Boatman accused Tulare City Council Member Carlton Jones of challenging him to a fist fight. Mr. Jones just can’t stay out of the top ten, with last year’s number three article reporting about his fight with the ag industry and losing the mayorship.

  1. “Eagle Mountain planning new resort casino”

Eagle Mountain Casino is moving off of the reservation and in a hotly debated move to a lot by the Porterville Airport. Construction will start this summer.

  1. “Tulare hospital district sues former counsel, board members”

The Tulare Local Healthcare District voted to sue lawyer Bruce Greene who it says fraudulently represented the district while also representing Dr. Benzeevi, to the obvious benefit of Dr. Benzeevi. The district’s suit caused an avalanche of subpoenas by Mr. Greene, primarily to harass and run up legal expenses of anyone who might testify against him. Mr. Greene subpoenaed The Valley Voice, Dave Adalian and Joseph Oldenbourg and myself for all our records pertaining to him. The Law firm of Melo and Sarsfield got the subpoenas dismissed by asserting newspaper reporting privileges written in the California constitution. Dozens of other Tulare residents are struggling under the burden of Mr. Greene’s legal tactics and have to comply.

  1. “Former Tulare Cemetery Employee Questions Final Paycheck” – AKA “Pot meet Kettle.”

Former cemetery groundskeeper, Jerry Ramos, misplaced dead bodies, yelled at grieving patrons, missed a ridiculous amount of work and secretly lived for free, utilities included, at the cemetery for years. He even invited a friend to live with him. So when Mr. Ramos sued for back pay after being fired, Board Chair Xavier Avila was stunned to put it politely.

The cemetery board to this day still fights about everything down to meeting minutes and flower pots. But the one thing they agree on is Mr. Ramos is full of bologna. The cemetery allegedly settled with Mr. Ramos for what they would have paid in legal expenses.

  1. Political Fix (4 April, 2019) “SLAPP Happy”

Three anti-SLAPP suits unfurled around the same time in Coalinga, Hanford and Lemoore. The Coalinga case is still pending, Hanford was found not to be an anti-SLAPP case, and the City of Lemoore had to pay council member Holly Blair’s legal bills as a result of their filing a temporary restraining order against her to keep her quiet.

  1. “Lemoore Files for Restraining Order against Council Member Holly Blair”
  2. “Suit Reveals Tulare City Hall Conspiracy”

Michael Lampe, attorney for Tulare Chief of Police Wes Hensley, made public evidence showing council members Carlton Jones and Greg Nunley conspired to “clean house” at city hall with the help of former city manager Joe Carlini. On January 10 Mr. Hensley and Mr. Lampe mediated an out-of-court settlement of $275,000 payment and Mr. Hensley was reinstated as police chief with a three-year contract.

  1. “Lemoore City Councilwoman Blair arrested”

In a weird twist after Ms. Blair won her anti-SLAPP suit, she started missing city council meetings to the point she was on the verge of losing her seat. Then in June she was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon (a car) and in July she threatened to kill her husband. Her husband stated that Ms. Blair suffered from a serious mental illness and a court appointed doctor found her incompetent to stand trial. A judge ordered that she be transferred to a state hospital once a bed is available.

Tulare also dominated our top 10 on facebook. Here some of the most popular.

“Tulare County DA can keep Benzeevi assets, judge rules”

The Tulare County District Attorney’s office was allowed to keep assets and property seized from Dr. Benzeevi while the office investigates his actions managing Tulare Regional Medical Center.

“It’s a new day for Tulare County dogs in commercial kennels”

Tulare County’s new ordinance was partially the result of the abuse happening at a Tulare puppy mill, Top Dog Kennel. The new rules reduced the maximum number of dogs in commercial kennels from 40 to 25. Of those, only five will be allowed to breed. The new rules also increased the size of the cage where kennel dogs spend most of their lives.

“Tulare moves forward with $9m line of credit to hospital district”

Over the objections of Council Member Jones, the Tulare City Council extended a $9m line of credit to the Tulare Local Healthcare District, after a special Tulare City Council. The city is on track paying back the loan.

It’s still called Litigation Terrorism

2019 was, for me, a year of fighting injustice. My lawyer said in November, “The longer I work in the legal justice system the more I hate it.”

He was referring to the “shakedown,” a process where a person, organization or city, sues an individual just because they can. The purpose is not to have their day in court or right a wrong, but to force the defendant to settle for a ridiculous amount of money because fighting the suit would cost the defendant more.

Joseph and I lost a few of these cases and I was primed for a fight.

So when I read about the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI,) an evangelical legal group, falsely accusing Hanford City Council member John Draxler of evicting a “poor widow” for her religious practices I got a bee so far up my rear end I could barely sit down.

Of course PJI never intended the case to see the inside of a court room. To increase the settlement amount extracted from Mr. Draxler, PJI dragged his name through the mud in the evangelical internet world instigating the Cancel Culture to declare that Mr. Draxler needed to step down from city council.

Not so fast.

I penetrated the gated apartment complex where the “poor widow” used to live and discovered she was actually harassing the other tenants and left in humiliation when called out on her behavior.

Nevertheless, PJI got its tidy 33.3% in a confidential settlement at the expense of one man’s reputation.  But in the end PJI sacrificed its soul for money but Mr. Draxler is now Mayor of Hanford.

A more egregious lawsuit is happening right now in Corcoran. Curtimade Dairy is being sued by the City of Corcoran for a mind numbing $65 million dollars.

While I do not personally know Tess Hall or her father, who run the family dairy, I do know for a fact, without reading the first word on the law suit, that the Curtis are not personally responsible for Corcoran’s water problems.

If I were to make a 2020 prediction, I foresee My Job Depends on Ag showing up to do a tri-tip barbeque every city council meeting until the city drops the suit.

There is a silver lining to the suit. Now we all have discovered Curtimade Dairy makes real gelato that you can normally only get in Italy or some neighborhoods in New York. Ciao Cow is sold throughout Tulare and Kings Counties and in the Marriott Visalia Hotel 24/7.

Price? $65 million a gallon. (Kidding, $8)

Corcoran’s suit mirrors Congress Member Devin Nunes’ 2019 legal tactics, which is ironic because the Curtis probably support him as a fellow farmer. But just like the Corcoran suit, Rep. Nunes has filed a total of five punitive lawsuits against real people with children, careers, and hopes for the future, for a total of $410 million in damages.

What damages could warrant the budget of a small country?

The maximum payout for medical malpractice for amputating the wrong limb or even death is $250,000. Yet Rep. Nunes deserves $410 million for a wounded ego?

Unfortunately a political operative observed, “You’re more likely to get sued by your member of Congress if you live in Fresno or Tulare County than to see him at a town hall and talk to him about constituent issues.”

A look back

The last decade started with people still hailing cabs, renting movies at Blockbuster, actually using their phones to make calls, and Christmas shopping at Toys R Us. Social media was still a vehicle for social change propelling forward the Arab Spring and Me too Movement. Barack Obama was president, but as Newton’s third law states, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,” (i.e.) Trump.

Americans are still feeling the effects of the Great Recession and not every local business survived the Great Drought. Hurricane Sandy made Climate Change real and Obamacare changed the concept of access to medical care from being a privilege to a human right.

The last decade brought us, for better or worse, Twiter, Snapchat, Instagram, and the “personal assistant” Siri; which then ushered in the movie “Her” where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his computer. Technology has not been the savior we all assumed it would be with users addicted to their phones, brick and mortar stores closing, and newspapers are folding. Even our Democracy has been hacked.

My family mirrored the upheavals experienced by the country. My husband and I started the decade as parents of five and ended it as parents of four. We lost our home, were sued seven times, had a house fire, went broke then regrouped.

What did I learn as the 2010’s drew to an end? That the bonds with my kids and husband were shockingly resilient. Every time we were beaten down we just kept bouncing back up getting stronger with each challenge.

I also learned that the bonds to my extended family were shockingly weak. I blindly went about my life for the last 50 years being the diligent daughter and sister, delivering baked goodies and handmade gifts, giving rides, hosting holidays, managing the family business, caring for the sick, documenting family history, etc. I learned that my naiveté was taken advantage of and the bonds that I thought were forever disappeared overnight.

In several of Rep. Nunes lawsuits he implores that “a very strong message needs to be sent” to prevent people from acting in a similar way.

I agree.

Maybe this will be the decade for justice. Where upside down gets right side up, the country returns to civility, and lawyers find that sense of shame missing in the legal justice system.

In the spirit of Newton’s third law of physics, we are all due for an equal but opposite change for the better. Let’s all make it happen together in 2020.

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