Attorney breaches secure area during La Jolla fireworks show

A photograph of a mortar that exploded on the ground during La Jolla's Fourth of July fireworks show. An environmental attorney who snuck into the secured area was escorted out less than a minute before the mishap, which representatives for Fireworks America say could have caused her serious bodily injury. Courtesy photo
A photograph of a mortar that exploded on the ground during La Jolla's Fourth of July fireworks show. An environmental attorney who snuck into the secured area was escorted out less than a minute before the mishap, which representatives for Fireworks America say could have caused her serious bodily injury. Courtesy photo
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A photograph of a mortar that exploded on the ground during La Jolla's Fourth of July fireworks show. An environmental attorney who snuck into the secured area was escorted out less than a minute before the mishap, which representatives for Fireworks America say could have caused the attorney serious bodily injury. Courtesy photo

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.

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A photograph of the faulty mortar taken after the show. Courtesy

“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.

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