Fishing for justice
Activist acts to change law by breaking it
It took Don Bird more than a year, but last week he finally succeeded in getting a citation for fishing without a license.
California Fish and Wildlife Officer Mitchell Carlson wrote the 78-year-old Bird a ticket after he twice cast a line into the waters of the Sacramento River just below the Red Bluff Diversion Dam.
Bird, who’s made a name for himself by accusing state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) of not living within his political district, plans to challenge the fishing ticket in court on Sept. 23 because, he says, the state’s allowance of Fish and Wildlife to charge $46 for a sport-fishing license is unconstitutional.
“If the judge dismisses the ticket, then I’ve won,” Bird said. “If he doesn’t, then I will demand a jury trial, which is my right under the California Constitution.”
This is not Bird’s initial confrontation over state law. In 2005, he challenged a speeding ticket by demanding a jury trial, which he didn’t get, and later was rebuffed by then-Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa when Bird asked him “to carry an Assembly bill that would again support our 7th Amendment right to a trial by jury.”
Over the years, Bird has attempted to get a superior court judge impeached and, in his most high-profile effort, went after then-Assemblyman Nielsen who Bird maintained was a resident of the Tehama County town of Gerber in name only and actually lives in a gated community in Woodland. Nielsen eventually got a restraining order against Bird.
Bird first went after the state through the Department of Fish and Wildlife on June 13, 2012, when he summoned local media to join him at Woodson Bridge near Corning, where he planned to cast his line into the Sacramento River and be cited by Fish and Wildlife for fishing without a license. It didn’t happen.
While he hooked the media, Fish and Wildlife did not bite, although the agency did send a helicopter to fly over the site. The Willows-based Sacramento Valley Mirror discovered after the non-event that it cost about $700 an hour for the state-chopper flyover.
Bird said he is aware of how he is seen by many in Northern California. His over-the-top campaigns have often gotten him labeled as little more than a soapbox orator whose actions have little impact on the state of the state, or its counties and cities.
In fact, when Bird failed to attract the Fish and Wildlife’s on-ground presence in his attempt to get a ticket for fishing without a license last year, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said the agency had no intention of being part of his “publicity stunt.”
In his effort last week to get ticketed for fishing without a license in Red Bluff, Bird didn’t bother to invite the media.
“I picked Red Bluff because it’s a little closer to home,” said Bird, a Rancho Tehama resident. “I don’t care who the judge is, if he knows the law.”
Nine days after he began trying to gain Fish and Wildlife’s attention, Bird was finally written up by Officer Carlson on Aug. 14. Bird said Carlson was courteous and polite, though a bit stiff after Bird tossed in his line.
“Mitch [Carlson] told me, ‘You’re going to lose,’ as he handed me the notice to appear,” Bird said. “I’m sure that’s what he thinks, but that’s not what’s going to happen.”
Bird said he has no plans to have legal counsel when he goes to court, because he believes he is more acquainted with the law than are most lawyers. He said the state will argue that the citation is for an “infraction,” which does not even have misdemeanor status. He’ll counter that, under the state constitution, “All are entitled to a jury trial. The word ‘infraction’ cannot be any exception.”
Bird is eager for his day in court, which is set for Sept. 23 in North Tehama Superior Court in Red Bluff.
“I’ve worked years for this,” he said. “I got beat to hell when I went into court as a plaintiff. This time I’m the defendant.”
Win or lose, he said, “This is my last hurrah.”