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Worker Says He Razed Oaks

Witness' former boss, an Ojai Valley landowner on trial, denies authorizing the illegal destruction of 300 trees.

May 22, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

An Ojai Valley landowner hired an inexperienced worker to clear brush and trees on his 43-acre property and monitored the bulldozing operation as it progressed in fall 2001, the worker testified Wednesday at the trial of his former employer.

Real estate broker William N. Kaddis, 58, of Los Angeles, is charged with 13 criminal counts for allegedly removing 300 protected oaks on his Baldwin Road property after being warned that he needed a permit.

If convicted, Kaddis faces up to 3 1/2 years in jail and substantial fines.

On Wednesday, the 21-year-old worker testified that he had no experience operating a bulldozer but told Kaddis, who was a friend of his father, that he could do the job.

"Mr. Kaddis stated that I was to remove the brush between the orange trees and that there were trees on the property that needed to be removed," said worker Aviram Soltes, a resident of La Crescenta. "He made it clear to me that that was my job."

Soltes testified that he used a bulldozer to push the downed trees and brush into piles. He said Kaddis paid him in cash and supervised the job, though he was not always at the site.

Defense lawyer Roger Diamond questioned the employment arrangement. He told Judge Kevin J. McGee, who will decide the case instead of a jury, that the defense will try to show that Soltes was an independent contractor who felled the trees on his own.

During cross-examination, Diamond questioned whether dense brush on the hillside property obscured the worker's view of the oaks.

"You've heard the phrase, 'Can't see the forest for the trees?' " Diamond said. "Was this a situation of 'Can't see the trees for the brush?' "

Ventura County Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Wold objected to the question, and McGee asked Diamond to rephrase it. Soltes, who has pleaded no contest to criminal charges in the case, then told the judge that dense brush did obscure his view. But he testified that he did not remove any trees inadvertently and was following Kaddis' instructions for the job.

Planning officials discovered the downed oaks, a violation of a county oak tree ordinance and of other regulations for subdivided property, on Oct. 11, 2001. Prosecutors allege that Kaddis ordered the trees felled even after advised that he needed a permit.

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

In other testimony Wednesday, a man who rented the bulldozer to Kaddis testified that he was called out to the property numerous times to fix it, including one occasion when the bulldozer became entangled in the thick branches of an oak.

Asked by Wold about the condition of the property, he said: "The trees were gone -- all of them."

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