Chez Sludge: Complaint Filed Regarding Francesca Vietor's Threat To the Guardian

The "Chez Sludge" scandal in San Francisco, involving the city giving away free toxic sewage sludge as "organic Biosolids compost" for gardeners, took another turn on July 13, 2010. The Food Rights Network filed a formal letter of complaint with the California Bar Association, asking the professional society for California lawyers to investigate Chris Desser, attorney for Francesca Vietor, in Vietor's threat of libel against the UK Guardian newspaper.

On February 9, John Stauber reported how Vietor is both the Vice President of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the agency promoting and defending the sludge giveaway, and at the same time the Executive Director of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation, which promotes safe and organic Edible Schoolyard gardens. Vietor has mired herself, Alice and the Foundation in a major conflict of interest dubbed "Chez Sludge" by Stauber.

The article, titled Chez Sludge: How the Sewage Sludge Industry Bedded Alice Waters, is based on dozens of internal documents obtained by Stauber and the Food Rights Network in an ongoing investigation using the San Francisco open records act. Stauber himself has been threatened by journalist Mark Dowie acting with Vietor. Stauber's article and the documents published on July 9, 2010 rebut claims made by Vietor about when she knew about the fake organic giveaway of composted sewage sludge and what she did about it. The documents show that Alice Waters' public statement on the issue was first reviewed by the sludge promoters at the SFPUC. They also show how Vietor worked with the SFPUC PR team to try to shape the coverage of this issue, monitoring media coverage of sludge critics including Stauber.

On April 1, 2010, Vietor accused the UK Guardian of libel in an email copied to her attorney Desser. The Guardian stands behind its reporting. Now an investigation by the Food Rights Network has found that Chris Desser is not currently licensed to practice law in California and cannot hold herself out as an attorney in the state.

John Mayer, coordinator of the Food Rights Network, delivered the formal letter of complaint to the California Bar office in San Francisco. It reads in part:

According to the State Bar of California’s website, as of today, the individual Ms. Vietor states is acting as her attorney, Ms. Christina (Chris) Desser, does not have an active license to practice law in California. Your website indicates that Ms. Desser’s license has been “inactive” since 1991. ... Our understanding is that Ms. Desser cannot legally and properly represent Ms. Vietor on this or any other legal matter in California if Ms. Desser is not currently licensed. If that is correct, and Ms. Desser is not currently licensed, please consider this a formal complaint from our organization to the State Bar of California, and please advise us of what action the Bar will be taking.

Stay tuned for further updates on the Chez Sludge saga.