Grassroots justice

Restraining order renews Don Bird’s efforts to unseat Assemblyman Jim Nielsen

Don Bird speaks to supporters and the media outside Tehama County Courthouse in Red Bluff following a hearing on Sept. 12. Bird is contesting a restraining order granted to Assemblyman Jim Nielsen.

Don Bird speaks to supporters and the media outside Tehama County Courthouse in Red Bluff following a hearing on Sept. 12. Bird is contesting a restraining order granted to Assemblyman Jim Nielsen.

Photo By howard hardee

Just when Don Bird thought he had exhausted all resources in his long pursuit of Republican state Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, his cause was given new life by the very man he was targeting.

“He did me the best favor in the world by stirring the pot on this one,” Bird said, practically beaming. “Mr. Nielsen was stupid; I’ve got a venue now.”

Bird was speaking to a gathering of about 20 people, including a handful of reporters, outside of the Tehama County Courthouse in Red Bluff after a preliminary hearing on Monday (Sept. 12) to determine whether the temporary restraining order recently granted to Nielsen that bars Bird from coming near the lawmaker will be permanent.

For years, the feisty Rancho Tehama political activist has been on a mission to unseat Nielsen, whom he accuses of continually lying about his supposed residence inside Assembly District 2. Bird and his supporters have long suspected Nielsen of fraud, insisting he lives in a gated community in Woodland rather than the double-wide mobile home near Gerber he claims as his residence.

Bird is not a physically imposing figure, but one can see how he has managed to get under Nielsen’s skin. The 76-year-old has on several occasions vowed to make a citizen’s arrest on the politician, which prompted the request for a temporary restraining order.

Despite his best efforts, however, Bird has never come face-to-face with Nielsen, much less carried out a citizen’s arrest, and his attempts to enlist past and present Tehama County sheriffs in the effort have been fruitless. The case was reviewed by the California Attorney General’s Office in 2008 and was rejected due to a lack of probable cause, reasoning Bird scoffs at.

“When [Clay] Parker was our sheriff, I gave him all the probable cause that was reasonable to expect, far more than an officer usually has when he straps handcuffs on you,” he said.

Ironically, Bird says he was on the verge of abandoning the cause entirely when he was served the temporary restraining order by two Tehama County deputies.

“This is a petty way to stop somebody, and actually he didn’t have to because I was going to quit,” he said. “It was pretty well known in my circle of friends that I was just going to give up on it. I couldn’t go any further; nobody was listening.”

Indeed, the turn of events has reinvigorated his cause.

Monday’s hearing ended up getting pushed back to allow Bird to seek legal counsel. He and his Redding attorney, Aaron Williams (who is representing Bird pro bono), will return to court on Oct. 3. Deputy Legislative Counsel Michael Kerins, representing Nielsen, agreed to the continuation so long as the temporary restraining order remains in place.

Outside of court following the hearing, one of Bird’s supporters, Red Bluff resident Pat Johnston, related her suspicions about Nielsen and the frustration surrounding local law enforcement’s apathy over the alleged fraud.

“No one has ever contacted any of us,” she said, referring to various county officials Johnston, Bird and their cohorts have attempted to reach. “Look, show me the investigation on Nielsen, and I’ll totally back off. I just want to see that there is an investigation. I don’t believe there is or ever has been.”

Both Johnston and Bird say they’ve been given the cold shoulder in their attempts to plead their case, and that the big issue is holding public figures accountable.

“Basically, everybody in this county who took an oath of office has refused to do their job,” Bird said. “If [Nielsen] had done his job and was honest, we wouldn’t be standing here today. It’s just that simple.”

This isn’t the first time Nielsen has faced criticism about his residency. In the 1980s, when reapportionment placed his Woodland home outside his Senate district, Nielsen rented an empty apartment in Rohnert Park to claim as his official residence. He faced no legal repercussions but lost the 1990 state Senate election.

This time around, Bird feels the case he is building with Williams is a slam dunk.

“The spin-off from this is going to come back to bite Mr. Nielsen,” he said. “When it comes election time, and we win, this guy is going to have mud on his face.”