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Trial Begins in Oaks Case

A Los Angeles man is accused of destroying 300 protected trees on his property near Ojai.

May 21, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles man intentionally bulldozed 300 protected oak trees on his hillside property near Ojai without a permit even after he was warned it would be illegal to do so, a Ventura County prosecutor argued Tuesday.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold made the statements as she began her case against 58-year-old real estate broker William N. Kaddis, who is charged with 13 criminal counts stemming from the clearing of nearly half of his 43-acre property off of Baldwin Road in the fall of 2001.

If convicted, Kaddis could face up to 3 1/2 years in prison and fines totaling $97,300.

Planning officials discovered the downed oaks -- in violation of a county oak tree ordinance as well as of restrictions attached to the subdivided property -- on Oct. 11, 2001, Wold said. While she would not specify what she believes Kaddis' motive was, she told the court he had bought 340 avocado trees that same month.

"He purchased the property knowing the restrictions and that he couldn't cut down protected oaks, but he cut down 300 protected oak trees anyway," Wold said during a break in the trial.

Kaddis also faces charges that he altered a streambed on his land without proper permits, gave a false police report and is illegally keeping 62 dogs in a kennel on the property.

The false police report charge stems from a letter that Kaddis produced for authorities last year that takes credit for the tree clearing.

His attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, did not make an opening statement Tuesday. Before the trial began, however, Diamond said he would challenge the ordinances that prosecutors were using to go after Kaddis because they were not available in a cohesive code book.

Kaddis was in search of a suitable retirement spot when "he got himself enmeshed in a bureaucratic nightmare," Diamond said.

In hearings held last year, Kaddis said that the trees were uprooted before he purchased the property in July 2001.

On the witness stand Tuesday, two county planners involved with the Ojai property testified that they saw and photographed the trees in late August 2001, but found 20 acres of trees and brush gone in early October of that year.

They also found a worker, 21-year-old Aviram Max Soltes, using a bulldozer to push the downed trees and brush into piles. Soltes, of La Crescenta, has pleaded no contest to one of the charges that prosecutors filed against him, and is expected to testify in the case today, Wold said.

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