May 17-23, 2006

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By Patricia Lynn Henley

Out of the 'Light'

The ongoing tussle between former Point Reyes Light newspaper owner Dave Mitchell and Robert Plotkin, who bought the Pulitzer Prize-winning publication six months ago, continues its circuitous passion play. Like the events of a bitter divorce, the conflict lacks clarity. What is clear is that Mitchell is no longer allowed to contact Plotkin or Plotkin's family. Neither can he enter the newspaper office, all under the terms of a permanent, three-year injunction issued by Marin Superior Court Commissioner Roy Chernus on Friday, May 12. Mitchell, 62, says he agreed to the restrictions willingly. "It's the equivalent of saying a family of skunks just moved into a burrow, and I ought to avoid stirring 'em up." For his part, Plotkin facetiously asserts that he'd like to "hold hands and sing 'Kumbiya'" with Mitchell. The latest injunction clears the way for an arbitrator to review what Mitchell feels is the heart of his case: the contention that the paper's $500,000 purchase includes a binding agreement to pay him a $175 weekly retainer to answer questions; health insurance; and access to the newspaper's archives. Plotkin, 36, has threatened to terminate these arrangements. "In short, [the injunction] was merely a prelude to the real match, which will be sometime this summer," Mitchell explains. Mitchell and Plotkin apparently had a falling out in February while sitting chatting in Mitchell's car outside the newspaper's offices. Plotkin filed a police report saying Mitchell attempted to strangle him, then screamed profanities and nearly drove his vehicle into the newspaper's front doors. Mitchell claims he was merely gesturing to illustrate his point about how upset opposing sides might be over a proposed news story, and never touched Plotkin. "Both the sheriff's deputy who interviewed Plotkin and one of the merchants who was a witness to all this--both pointed out there were no marks on Plotkin. That is key," Mitchell says. For his part, Plotkin shrugs. "The court documents and the judge's order speak for themselves." Mitchell likens his experience with the Light's new owner to petting a purring cat, then having it turn and suddenly bite his hand. "While [Plotkin] has made himself an enemy of mine, I don't consider myself an enemy of him. I think he's young and foolish, but he's not an enemy." A former prosecutor for Monterey County, Plotkin is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. Praising Mitchell's long tenure with the Light and for "maintaining the integrity of a small town paper in this era of corporatization," Plotkin admits to being weary of the situation. "I just wish that [Mitchell] could have left more gracefully and be remembered for his accomplishments and not this tawdry affair."

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