By Pat Sherman
An attorney with the law firm that has repeatedly sued to halt La Jolla’s annual fireworks show was caught snapping covert photographs on the Fourth of July in a secured area where the pyrotechnics are launched.
Marco Gonzalez of Encinitas-based Coast Law Group told the
La Jolla Light
his attorney, Livia Borak, was merely documenting the environmentally damaging detritus left behind by the event — evidence that could later be used in court.
“We go down there every year to take pictures of the illegal show,” said Gonzalez, who has prevailed in three of five suits he has filed against the event, on behalf of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, of which he is founder and executive director.
“The stuff that we picked up off the ground, the footage that we’ve taken at last year’s show, it’s very damaging,” Gonzalez said. “It goes totally contrary to the way that they describe the show. We show burning embers, pieces of fireworks going directly into the water and onto the bluff.”
Though police did not cite Borak for the breach, Robert Howard, the attorney representing the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, said he is pursuing other action against her and Coast Law Group.
“This is a complete violation of ethical requirements,” Howard said. “As attorneys, for whatever discovery purposes they were trying to achieve, you cannot go into a restricted space and put yourself and put others at risk of physical harm — all for purposes of discovery. This would have to have been done through a formal discovery request, so that proper safety measures could have been taken.”
Howard said his firm, Latham & Watkins, is evaluating what steps need to be taken to report the incident to the State Bar, and is also considering filing a restraining order against Coast Law Group and its attorneys.
“We don’t intent to just ignore this serious incident,” Howard said. “If these attorneys aren’t going to play by the rules, we’re going to have a court order them to stay away from the events, because they become a safety risk to the event.”
Marianne Bates, an employee of Lakeside-based Fireworks America, said she was doing her job timing fireworks detonations when she noticed a shadowy figure moving through the bushes at the edge of the secured perimeter, located at the northern most edge of Ellen Browning Scripps Park.
“I grabbed her by the arm and took her out,” said Bates, noting that the attorney was about five to 10 feet from the fireworks, for about 30 seconds, before being handed over to one of nine security guards monitoring the event.
The only people allowed inside the secured launch area are trained professionals, fully dressed in flame-retardant clothing and eye and ear protection.
“She was wearing a very light beach shirt, no eye or ear protection” and was “unbelievably, scary close,” Bates said.
About 30 seconds after Bates escorted Borak out, a mortar exploded, causing burns to one of Fireworks America’s staff.
“Had I have fallen while I was trying to get her out I would have been hurt, even dressed in protective gear,” Bates said. “I put my life at risk, and that is what makes me mad. I am fine with Coast Law Group pursuing their passions, but when they go into our firing site during a show, putting other people at risk, then it’s personal to me.
“I don’t know if she was there to take pictures, I don’t know if she was there to sabotage the show,” Bates said.
Bates said it wasn’t until after the show, when her crew was cleaning up and Borak and Gonzalez returned to take more photos, that she and others recognized Borak.
“That’s when I read her the riot act,” Bates said.
Though Boark was not available for comment Friday, Gonzalez said Howard and Fireworks America had “overstated” and misrepresented the incident.
“Livia walked past the fence to take some photographs, she was asked to leave, and she did,” Gonzalez said. “Only after the fact, once they realized that she was part of the Coast Law Group, did they try to escalate matters and get the police involved … making it into something that it wasn’t.”
Asked whether his attorney knew she was putting herself at risk, Gonzalez said, “No more than the other people that were within the fire-shooting zone. She was far enough back that she didn’t feel like she was in danger. … It was totally blown out of proportion.
“Frankly the police lectured Fireworks America on a combination of them having no claim and having insufficient security,” he said.