Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Peacekeepers in the War on Christmas

"Making Spirits Bright" 2019
(Photo by Mark Burnham)

Vancouver Men’s Chorus is a nation of immigrants.

Almost half of our 100-plus singers were born outside of Canada. We have native speakers who can coach our pronunciation of lyrics from Afrikaans to Yoruba. However, currently I’m the only member of the chorus who commutes to rehearsal from another country.

Each December during the run of “Making Spirits Bright,” VMC’s Asian-Canadian cohort assembles for their annual group photo. If you’re wondering, the membership of the “Vancouver Gaysian Men’s Chorus” is not co-extensive with the tenor section of VMC. This year’s VGMC photograph includes two Basses, five Baritones, five Second Tenors, and five First Tenors. Yogi, who is missing from the photo because he was busy selling raffle tickets during intermission, breaks the three-way tie. Yep, Yogi is a First Tenor.

VGMC 2019

Vancouver Men’s Chorus presents its major concerts in December and June, with six or seven shows spread over a couple of weeks like glitter. Many community choruses rehearse for months in preparation for just one or two performances. I prefer doing a show multiple times. Opening night offers a thrilling adrenaline rush, but it’s more fun to achieve a smooth routine. Eventually you have the words, notes, and even the choreography down. The audience gets a polished, unterrified performance. The conductor zeroes in on artistic details. Everyone else spends their extra time taking selfies and flirting.

Nevertheless, before each performance we still gather on stage to warm up and review problem spots. Now that the concert run is over, I can reveal my own hopeless causes from Making Spirits Bright XXXIX:

Firstthe Second Tenors remained tentative to the bitter end on the entrance for our countermelody in “The Holy and the Ivy.” Unfortunately, the song is a complex six-part canon with too much going on, so the conductor sometimes forgot to cue us. Fortunately, the song is a complex six-part canon with too much going on, so no one in the audience noticed or cared. 

Second, by opening night I accepted I would never memorize every line of rapid lyrics from our Haitian Creole carol. Frankly, there’s no way I can squeeze any more nonsense syllables into my brain without deleting whatever’s left of the seven-times multiplication table.

MSB 2017

After the Gaysian photo session last year, we had time to arrange portraits of various other VMC caucuses. The Australian and the Irish contingents each had three singers, which together equaled the six Americans. 

One of the other American singers moved to Vancouver with his Canadian husband a few years ago. Mike sang in the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus when I was singing in Seattle Men’s Chorus. Every time our conductor Willi casually refers to Making Spirits Bright as “the Christmas concert,” Mike and I exchange glances. 

No one from an American gay chorus has referred to singing in a “Christmas concert” since sometime in the last century. In Seattle and Portland, we always carefully called it “the Holiday concert.”

Seattle Men's Chorus, "Play it Again, Santa" (2013)
(I'm behind transgender Santa)

Despite its No. 1 ranking, Yale Law School is notorious for lax graduation requirements and the absence of real grades. As the Dean said in his welcome address to now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, me, and the rest of the Class of 1990, “Our goal is to get 90% of you into the top 10%.”

In our day, law students were required to complete one “substantial writing” project at some point before graduation. I did mine for a seminar on religion law, where I compared the American and Canadian constitutions. In the United States, the First Amendment includes two separate clauses guaranteeing the “free exercise of religion” but prohibiting any “establishment of religion.” Everyone agrees American religion jurisprudence is an incoherent mess.

In contrast, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply recognizes “freedom of conscience and religion” among the nation’s fundamental freedoms. Canada’s religion jurisprudence can be summarized as Be More Chill.


Both Seattle Men’s Chorus and Vancouver Men’s Chorus actually perform songs from an eclectic mix of holiday traditions and in a variety of musical styles. One perennial favourite of Seattle audiences is “A P.C. Xmas,” composed by the talented Eric Lane Barnes. Eric moved to Seattle from Chicago the same year I returned home to the Pacific Northwest, so we ended up working together during both my five years in Windy City Gay Chorus and my fifteen years in Seattle Men’s Chorus.

“A P.C. Xmas” is narrated by Marge Williams, the Pacific Corporation human resources manager organizing this year’s office holiday party. Her verses consist of increasingly frustrated company-wide emails, beginning with her announcement that a local chorus will be entertaining employees with traditional Christmas carols during the office party. 

After the Second Tenors sing the first chorus, “Gloria in Exelcis Deo,” Marge responds to employee complaints by assuring folks the party will also feature a selection of secular Christmas songs. For the second chorus, the Lower Baritone section therefore joins the Second Tenors’ “Gloria” with a contrapuntal “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” 

After each bewildered email from Marge, the other choir sections add new layers to the chorus. The Upper Baritones provide a suitably minor-keyed reminder of Hanukkah. The Basses sing about Kwanzaa. The First Tenors offer a devout solstice hymn to the Moon Goddess.

Ultimately, the P.C. office holiday party is canceled. An overwhelmed Marge takes the rest of the year off.

In Canada, Marge would have been chill.

"A P.C. Xmas," as sung by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles
(here's the YouTube link)

This winter marks my fourth anniversary both as a person living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and as a member of Vancouver Men’s Chorus. In writing about my experiences with SMC and VMC, I hope I haven’t left you with a negative impression about either organization. Both choruses are deservedly respected around the world as exceptional arts institutions and vibrant gay communities. Both choruses have saved countless lives, including mine.

Four eventful decades after their founding, the two organizations have chosen very different paths. SMC has a $4 million annual budget, a large professional staff, and a successful younger sibling in Seattle Women’s Chorus. In contrast, VMC still relies primarily on member volunteers and collaborative governance. At the announcement break in each regular Wednesday night rehearsal from September to June, we sing a rousing “Happy Birthday” to all the guys with birthdays. If there aren’t any birthdays that week, we sing to some of the members with summer birthdays. And when someone becomes a citizen, we sing “O Canada.”

These days Vancouver rather than Seattle is the ideal commute for me, literally and figuratively. As I keep noticing, everything is better in Canada.

MSB 2017

Even after a quarter century of gay choruses, I’m too much of an introvert to audition for an actual solo. Nevertheless, the last two years I confronted my anxieties by volunteering for a four measure micro-solo in VMC’s Christmas show. Each occasion involved a primarily dramatic rather than musical role. It turns out the contemporary choral repertoire includes a striking number of holiday songs where a lonely Jewish singer attempts to sing “The Dreidel Song” before being shushed by white supremacists. Even though my heritage actually is Mormon, in both “Making Spirits Bright 2017” and “MSB 2018” I was faux typecast as the outnumbered Jewish guy.

Sadly, despite the best efforts of VMC’s diligent Music Selection Committee, we couldn’t squeeze any jovial anti-Semitism into this year’s MSB theme of “The Colours of Christmas.” It’s probably for the best. This was my first chorus concert as a fulltime single dad, so I wasn’t sure whether I could commit. 

In the end I crossed the border for five out of VMC’s seven performances, plus the tech rehearsal, as well as outreach performances in both Victoria and Vancouver. Nevertheless, as usual I skipped the wrong performance. I missed seeing longtime SMC conductor Dennis Coleman in the audience for a rare Vancouver visit. And regardless of your “Where's Waldo?” skills, you won’t find me in the chorus photo at the beginning of this essay. 

Here’s what I posted to the internal Facebook page for chorus members:

Once again, I’m missing from the official VMC picture. I blame my children. For everything. (Or being American. Or Jewish.)

It’s important to perpetuate stereotypes, even false ones.

MSB 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah
from Bellingham and Vancouver


Friday, December 13, 2019

Make Waves


As Harvey Milk said, the most important thing you will ever do as a gay person is come out. Over the last few decades, our collective coming out has transformed society. 

Coming out also transforms individuals. Of course safety and other practical considerations can put reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on how we do it. But even as an introvert, my own experiences and my observation of other LGBT folks have taught me to err on the side of outing yourself.  The truth makes you free.

Today I publicly came out once again by revealing an important part of my story for the first time – the role that Western Washington University and its abusive leaders played in destroying my health and career. Here are my prepared remarks from the public comment period during the December 13, 2019 meeting of the Western Board of Trustees.


My name is Roger Leishman. Some of you will remember me from when I had the honor of serving as Western’s Chief Legal Advisor. I'm here today to let you know why I suddenly disappeared, and what I’m doing with my life these days.

Four years ago I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I realize I don’t resemble the typical image of a PTSD patient. My unexpected disability was rooted in trauma that occurred three decades ago, but my PTSD symptoms were triggered by recent events. 

Unfortunately, my employers at the Washington Attorney General’s Office bungled their response to my disability disclosure. They exacerbated my injuries, discriminated against me, and illegally fired me. Sadly, as other people living with mental illness can attest, my experience is all too common.

After I made enough progress with my PTSD, I submitted requests to the State under the Public Records Act and tried to figure out what happened. The documents shocked me. My former colleagues intentionally discriminated against me both as a disabled person and as an openly gay man – then embarked on a clumsy cover-up that continues today. 


One of the things I learned from the State’s incriminating email trail was the why – why did a bunch of supposedly smart lawyers break the law in their haste to expel an outsider who everyone acknowledged was providing exceptional legal services to the university?  

The answer: because former Western president Bruce Shepard demanded that I be fired


As I wrote in an early blog post, one of the few silver linings in Donald Trump’s poisonous orange cloud is that his election made it much easier to explain how malignant narcissist personality disorder works. I have no reason to doubt that Bruce Shepard was an able administrator and educator. (Unlike Donald Trump.) However, by the time I interacted with him as a lame duck during the 2015-16 school year, President Shepard was demonstrating increasingly obvious indicia of malignant narcissism. For example, Bruce Shepard became enraged by criticism, or even by the mere hint of someone saying “no” to him. 

When the lawyers at the Attorney General’s Office destroyed my life, they did it to accommodate President Shepard’s malice and prejudice. I look forward to sharing the detailed evidence I’ve gathered regarding President Shepard’s role. For now, I’ll point to one specific example, because it happened here in this room. 

I sang with Seattle Men’s Chorus for fifteen years. The Trustees were aware of my participation in the chorus; several Trustees had attended our concerts. SMC is one of the nation's oldest gay choruses, and one of Washington’s most successful arts organizations. During a public meeting of the Board in 2015, I compared the Trustees’ momentous task of choosing a new university president to the Seattle Men’s Chorus search to replace its conductor for the first time in thirty-five years. 

Documents produced under the Public Records Act revealed that the Washington Attorney General’s Office took adverse employment action against me because President Shepard told them he was offended by my LGBT arts analogy. 

Let that sink in. Bruce Shepard had me fired, in part, because he thought the real-world analogy I shared with you Trustees was too gay. 



While I was at Western, I personally observed and endured multiple examples of Bruce Shepard’s abuse of power. Perhaps my experience was isolated. I doubt it. 

Some of you are already familiar with name Matthew Babick. He was Western’s internal auditor until he was unilaterally fired by former President Shephard in April 2015, after Matt raised questions about the president’s expense account. I never met Matt when he was at WWU. But his daughter is in the same grade as my daughters, so over the last couple of years we’ve chatted at volleyball games and gymnastics meets. Last month I ran into Matt at the Sehome High School choir concert. I learned that he’d finally reached a settlement in his wrongful termination claim against the State – four and a half years after the Babicks were victims of serial abuser Bruce Shepard.

President Shepard’s abusive treatment of former Western student Tysen Campbell is even more horrifying than the plight of a couple of unemployed middle-aged dads. Four years ago, Mr. Campbell was a sophomore student athlete at Western. After racist provocations by Western’s rabble-rousing Associated Students President, Mr. Campbell published a brief response on an anonymous social media site, which he removed within seconds. Like the studentbody president's original post, Mr. Campbell’s comment was offensive, but protected by the First Amendment.

When Mr. Campbell was identified as the perpetrator, the first-time offender was jailed overnight, and charged with the exceptionally serious crime of felony harassment. He was publicly humiliated and kicked out of school in disgrace. No action was taken against any of the other students who contributed to the heated debate.

In January 2017, the Bellingham Herald ran a useful article recapping events in the case. The occasion of the Herald’s article was the final disposition of the case against Mr. Campbell. The prosecutor agreed to drop all charges. The decision not to pursue felony harassment charges is entirely understandable – Mr. Campbell’s statement did not constitute a true threat, and instead was protected from prosecution as free speech. See, e.g., State v. Kilburn, 151 Wn.2d 36, 54, 84 P.3d 1215 (2004); State v. Kohonen, 192 Wn. App. 567, 370 P.3d 16 (2016). Someday folks will look back at this episode as a tragic and irresponsible systemic failure.

In almost thirty years as a civil rights lawyer, I have never witnessed anything more appalling than Western’s violation of Mr. Campbell’s rights. All that was missing was a few deranged tweets. When I attempted to counsel President Shepard against continuing on this misguided course of action, his response was to insist on my termination. 


Not all abuse involves sex, but all abuse involves power and its misuse

One of the lessons of the #MeToo movement is that our collective silence enables repeated abuse by powerful men, then covers up their misconduct. I therefore invite other members of the Western community to come forward with their own stories of former President Shepard’s abuse of power. Feel free to contact journalists at the Western Front or Bellingham Herald, law enforcement, Western’s Equal Opportunity office, or myself. 

Please join me in speaking truth to power.



Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Peak Parenting


My ex and I broke up long ago. Breaking up is hard to do, for everyone involved. But we’ve done a pretty good job of co-parenting our modern family, including smoothly alternating kid weeks.   

Here’s what I wrote a couple of years ago in “Peak-End Parenting”:

Do you want to know the dirty little secret of a smoothly-handled amicable divorce? [Ed. Note: parents in rocky marriages should skip this part.] Alternating weeks with the kids is just about the ideal parenting arrangement. 

The kids and I enjoy our week together. Our days are packed with school, adventures, and screen time. Then, just as we are beginning to annoy one another, the kids go across town. They get to enjoy a week with my ex and his husband, two adorable dogs, and different screens. In the meantime, I can get errands done, go to chorus or the theater without splurging on a babysitter, and have adult time. Regardless of the week, we all get together for things like holidays and middle school choir concerts. By the time I miss the kids, it’s Friday afternoon and they’re back.

Ever since we separated, my ex has been married or in a relationship. The kids have benefited from a bonus stepdad. In contrast, I’ve been pathetically single the whole time. Nevertheless, despite the various plagues I’ve endured in the last few years, somehow I managed to keep our three wonderful children reasonably happy and healthy during my solo alternate weeks.


In “Peak-End Parenting,” I applied brain research to my single parent situation.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman describes human consciousness as a combination of “the experiencing self, which does the living, and the remembering self, which keeps score and makes the choices.” By definition, the experiencing self only lives in this moment. But the remembering self – the sum of our memories so far – is also here in the moment, making our choices. Eventually, the future version of our remembering self will be the one looking back to evaluate our choices with the squinting clarity of hindsight.

It's impossible to live a life of permanent ecstasy. The next best thing – the path to happiness – is to enjoy the moment, while also making the best possible memories for your future self to benefit from. And after the passage of time, what we remember is not the details or duration of each good or bad experience, but rather how we felt about its peak and end. (With terrible experiences, we remember the nadir and the end.) 

This mental process begins even before the experience itself has ended. Admit it – how many times have you left a meager tip when you enjoyed excellent food but waited too long for the check to arrive?

So what is peak-end parenting? All I needed to do to ensure my kids end up with memories of an idyllic childhood was to make sure each alternated kid week included some memorable peak experiences, and that we ended the week on a high note.


This August my ex and his husband filed for divorce, and my ex moved to the Midwest to start a new life. The kids are staying with me fulltime, but they look forward to visiting Daddy and his new partner during school breaks. 

The last time I was a fulltime single parent was five years ago. In Fall 2014, my ex and his husband decided to move out of Seattle and start a new business. They ended up choosing Bellingham, where my parents happen to live. After eight months alone in Seattle as a fulltime single parent with three young children – still probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done – I was ready to cry uncle.  

Then a miracle occurred. In the summer of 2015, I was offered my dream position in Bellingham with the Washington Attorney General’s Office, as chief legal advisor to Western Washington University. It was the perfect fit, in the perfect place for my family. I loved everything about my job and the prospect of working at Western until the kids graduate and I retire – except for the fact that insecure and incompetent colleagues treated me like a noxious invader. My superiors’ actions triggered PTSD symptoms that continue today; their pattern of abuse and denial ended my professional career.

A couple of friends contend my job fiasco had a silver lining. They argue the benefits of moving close to family and to Vancouver justify the horrors I’ve endured. But my parents have lived in Bellingham since 1981. Dim-witted as I can be, I think I would have eventually figured out that Seattle has become a hellhole, and that it makes much more sense for the kids and me to be in Bellingham. Even without going through the whole PTSD thing. And even without knowing my ex would be moving out of state five years later.


I grew up Mormon, which explains a lot. Mormons are denied many of the pleasures available in other Christian denominations, such as alcohol, coffee, feminism, and homosexuality. Mormons also miss out on centuries of religious art and music. The church’s founders overreacted to what they considered to be the “apostasy” of both Catholics and Protestants by banishing anything that hinted of Popery, including Mozart and Bach.

When I was in law school and struggling with my Mormon heritage, friends invited me to attend services conducted by the Episcopal chaplain at Yale. After graduating and moving to Seattle, I joined my first choir – at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, which had and has a marvelous music program. Anyone who happens to be in Seattle on a Sunday at 9:30 pm should check out the traditional Anglican Compline service, where a skilled all-male choir fills the hushed and darkened cathedral with plainchant and anthems.

For the first time in my Mormon life, Saint Mark's regularly exposed me to great church music. I also embraced a liturgical calendar that offered something more than an endless series of bland Sundays. Maybe it’s all those years in academia, or my farmer heritage, but there’s something soothing about setting your internal clock to familiar annual seasons, with their rhythm of regular milestones.

It’s not just the big festivals of Easter and Christmas, or the annual pilgrimages of Advent and Lent. It’s also “Ordinary Time,” which refers to the huge chunk of the year between special occasions. The name comes from the practice of referring to each week with “ordinal” numbers, such as “The First Sunday after Pentecost,” or “The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.” 

Have I mentioned lately that my favorite colour is green?


I’ve been alone with the kids for four months. There have been challenges and adjustments for everyone, but overall it’s gone surprisingly well. Still, everyone is looking forward to the kids’ first trip to Indiana the week after Christmas. Even with FaceTime, our children miss Daddy. And he’s missing out on being a part of their daily lives. 

I don’t know how other denominations pray, but “our daily lives” is a major Mormon cliché. And redundant – is there any other kind of life? We may remember the peaks and endpoints of particular experiences, but we live our lives right now. 

That’s been the big lesson of fulltime single parenthood. I don’t miss the routine of alternating kid weeks after all. To the contrary, I’ve escaped from the “hoarding” mentality of squeezing fun into a limited time period, and the challenges of planning parental bonding around an arbitrary calendar. Instead, there’s our ordinary family life together, day after day. Sure, I miss the freedom of more “me time.” I may not go on another date until they all graduate. But I get to watch three amazing kids grow up. 

Meanwhile, for the first time since I bought my doomed weekend cabin nineteen years ago, we live in just one place, full-time. No one is shuttling anywhere – just planning for regular vacations during school breaks. It’s exhausting and overwhelming and utterly ordinary. I love it.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Begging the Question


English Majors have awesome powers. We can punctuate a sentence without emoji. We know the different between the “plot” and the “theme” of a story. We could correct your grammar, but we usually resist the temptation.

English Majors also know language changes. Thanks to an amazing high school English teacher forty years ago, I can still recite the opening lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in incomprehensible Middle English (“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote / The droghte of March hath perced to the roote”). Despite some initial misgivings, I accept that “contact” and “access” can now be used as verbs, even though traditionally both were nouns. I'm an enthusiastic language nerd, not a judgmental curmudgeon.


As a writer, sometimes I’m frustrated by words whose meanings are in flux. Isn’t language supposed to be about communicating a particular idea to other people?

Over the years I’ve adopted several strategies for dealing with linguistic uncertainty. The most important is to identify your audience. For example, ordinarily I believe folks should split infinitives whenever it feels good. The English infinitive form of a verb consists of a phrase that begins with the word “to”: “to write,” “to complain,” etc. Splitting an infinitive means putting an adverb between the word “to” and the main verb: “to elegantly write,” “to constantly complain,” etc. We’ve been splitting infinitives for as long as we’ve been speaking English. However, a couple of hundred years ago a pedantic cleric denounced the practice, resulting in several generations of hyperanxious students. As “Grammar Girl” observes

The only logical reason to avoid splitting infinitives is that there are still a lot of people who mistakenly think it is wrong. If you write from a position of power, split your infinitives as much as you want. Be guided by the sound and flow of your sentence. On the other hand, if you have to please others or avoid complaints, it’s safer to avoid splitting infinitives. There's no reason to deliberately split infinitives when you know it's going to upset people.

I’d like to think of myself as a powerful writer. But when I know my audience includes crotchety old men – a demographic that is overrepresented in the judiciary, for example – I edit myself. In this case the language itself never changed. Just snobby attitudes. 

Of course, there are other times when I’m the snob. A large percentage of Trump voters, bless their hearts, use the fake word “irregardless.” Nevertheless, I’m confident even they will understand my intended meaning if I type “regardless” or “irrespective” instead.


Anyone operating in English must live with a degree of ambiguity. Generally that’s a good thing. Language is endlessly flexible. If necessary, we can always use verbal and nonverbal cues to nudge readers and listeners toward our intended meaning – even with contronyms, i.e., words that, depending on context, can have two contradictory or even opposite definitions.

For example, when the word “decimate” was coined it meant eliminating one in ten of something – originally one in ten soldiers in a Roman legion. Nowadays most people use "decimate" to refer to destroying or removing a large proportion of something. As a writer, you can use the context to signal whether you meant to eliminate 10 percent or 90 percent.

Usually it’s not worth the bother. The easiest strategy for dealing with words or phrases that require a lot of extra explanation is to avoid them completely, at least until you’re confident you have an audience who will catch your intended meaning. No one can focus on your message if they’re busy arguing about whether you referred to Yanny or Laurel, or wondering if the dress was blue rather than white. Fortunately English has more words to choose from than any other language in the history of the universe.

On the other hand, the gold standard for elegantly handling ambiguous words or phrases is to craft a sentence that makes sense under either common definition. I was thinking of this challenge last month when I received an odd letter from Solicitor General Noah Purcell, the State of Washington’s top courtroom lawyer. His letter begged the question – what was Noah thinking?


In all my decades of pompous writing, until now I’d never typed the words “beg the question.” The reason for my reticence:  you think the phrase means to raise a specific question for the reader or listener to consider. Go ahead, admit it. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just not an English Major.  

What “begging the question” really means is to argue in favor of your proposed conclusion by assuming the conclusion itself is true. The English phrase originally came from an awkward translation of the technical term used by Latin rhetoric scholars for this logical fallacy:  petitio principiiBegging the question is the quintessential example of circular reasoning.


In the Washington Court of Appeals’ opinion last month, here’s how the Court summarized the factual background of my pending lawsuit:

In November 2015, Leishman’s physician diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and serious codependency. Leishman informed the Attorney General’s Office of his new diagnosis and ultimately submitted a formal request for reasonable accommodation of his disability in February 2016. In March 2016, Leishman, an openly gay man, also filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, alleging that his supervisor, Kerena Higgins, made homophobic comments towards him. Leishman felt that his PTSD was triggered by Higgins’s comments and her micromanagement of his work. During a meeting with Higgins to discuss Leishman’s disability accommodation and Higgins’s comments, Leishman became aggressive, raised his voice, and pounded his fists. [As the Complaint states, this occurred when she accused me of faking my disability. The doctor who evaluated me opined that my response was typical.]

Higgins complained to the Attorney General’s Office about Leishman’s inappropriate conduct and the Attorney General’s Office placed Leishman on home assignment. The Attorney General’s Office retained Ogden Murphy Wallace to conduct an independent investigation into Leishman’s sexual orientation discrimination claim against Higgins, and Higgins’s allegation that Leishman was inappropriate during their meeting

Ogden Murphy Wallace drafted a report concluding that “Leishman has not established support for his complaint of discrimination against him based on sexual orientation as prohibited by Attorney General’s Office polices.” The Ogden Murphy Wallace Report also concluded that “Mr. Leishman’s conduct during the March 1 meeting [with Higgins] violated expected standards of conduct for his position as reflected in his job description.” 

I wish I could get my own summary of “My Story So Far” down to a lean 212 words. I’m jealous of Judge Mann’s pithiness. 

Brevity shouldn’t be so hard. As I recently wrote in “The Western Comma,” it turns out my fundamental argument actually is very simple, and quite English Major-y. There should be a period where the comma appears in the Court’s sentence I highlighted above:  
The Attorney General’s Office retained Ogden Murphy Wallace to conduct an independent investigation into Leishman’s sexual orientation discrimination claim against Higgins.
Period.

That’s what the Attorney General’s Office and Ogden Murphy Wallace said publicly when they identified Ogden Murphy Wallace’s assignment as part of the State’s rigorous and transparent contract procurement process. That’s what the lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office and their attorney-investigator told me. That’s what my Complaint alleges. And that’s the only way the rest of the story makes sense. My lawyer would never have allowed me to be interrogated alone for over an hour if she or I had known my employers were secretly looking for a way to justify firing me, rather than asking their investigator to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into a specific complaint regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation.  

It’s true that senior lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office made the mistake of asking their investigator to look into a separate supervisor complaint about my workplace conduct, without amending the contract documents. But that’s not what they told the public, my lawyer, and me. And that’s not what the State’s vendor contract authorized. 

So what’s the State and Ogden Murphy Wallace’s response to the damning evidence? Its hard to tell – so far all they've ever done is stall and lie. I guess they’d say that when a gay employee identifies evidence of implicit and explicit homophobia in the workplace and his employer hires an outside attorney-investigator to look into his discrimination complaint, there’s nothing wrong with these experienced employment lawyers secretly focusing on a second unrelated personnel investigation topic instead. 


Actually, there’s a lot wrong if a private investigator’s sleazy business plan consists of telling government employees and other members of the public that he’s “independently” investigating Subject X, when the investigator and his agency customers are actually working together to smear their target with dirt about Subject Y instead. This deceptive practice is particularly troubling when it prevents a disabled employee from enjoying the benefit of the employment lawyer he hired to represent him in connection with Subject Y.

That’s why I filed a Complaint in court suing Ogden Murphy WallaceSeattle’s sleaziest bottom-feeding law firm®,” and its partner Patrick Pearce. That’s why I fought and won on appeal when Defendants had my Complaint dismissed on an erroneous technicality. That’s why I submitted bar complaints about the lawyers’ unethical conduct. And that’s why I will keep speaking truth to power about dishonest attorneys and abusive bureaucrats – until someone in authority finally begins to listen.

Dos Bros – Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell 
and his boss Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Back to the letter I received last month from smarmy Solicitor General / erstwhile Attorney General candidate Noah Purcell. Actually I was merely cc-ed. Noah addressed his letter to the judge who wrote the Court of Appeals published opinion in my lawsuit. On behalf of the State of Washington, the Solicitor General asked the Court to revise its decision and tone down its description of my supervisor Assistant Attorney General Kerena Higgins’ central role in my termination, in order “to avoid needless harm to a public servant.” Seriously – you can read Noah’s obsequious taxpayer-funded letter for yourself.

After a couple of weeks of Trump impeachment hearings, Noah’s letter makes me proud to be the whistleblower type of public servant, rather than the political hack type who prefers to malign us and cover up official wrongdoing.

As the Court of Appeals observed – and as the Solicitor General necessarily acknowledged in his letter – for purposes of the Court’s opinion “the factual allegations in the complaint are accepted as true.” Opinion at 5 (citing Northwest Animal Rights Network v. State, 158 Wn. App. 237, 241, 242 P.3d 891 (2010)); see also Purcell letter at 3. This includes the Complaint’s amply supported allegation that the investigator chose to ignore extensive evidence of homophobic conduct – because the State’s employment lawyers wanted to instead use the Ogden Murphy Report as a pretext to fire me based on secret complaints by Ms. Higgins and others about my workplace conduct.

Nevertheless, Noah’s letter asked the Court of Appeals to whitewash its opinion and “remove its description of factual allegations made by the plaintiff against an Assistant Attorney General that are untrue.” What evidence did Noah rely on in arguing that Ms. Higgins and her colleagues are the victims of “untrue” accusations of homophobia? “The report prepared by Ogden Murphy Wallace.” 

Anyone familiar with basic principles of logic would know better than to rely on the disgraced Ogden Murphy Wallace Report itself as your only evidence that Assistant Attorney General Kerena Higgins couldn’t possibly have said or done anything improper. Solicitor General Noah Purcell’s letter to the Court of Appeals begs the question – what was Noah thinking?

www.xkcd.com



Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Western Comma


Even though it’s still November, the sun came back today. After waiting for the plumber to finish roto-rooting our sewer line, the dogs and I decided to go on their favourite walk. Our route includes a long loop though neighbouring Western Washington University. When we crossed the “Quidditch Quad,” the dogs became adorably tangled in a pack of teens and parents on their campus tour. 

The student guide had met us before. He told the campus visitors “Bear and Buster are among Western’s many amenities.”


Last week when I was in Seattle I ran into an old friend. He sheepishly told me he’d given up reading my blog posts. I happened to be in town for tedious lawyer meetings that had already triggered either déjà vu or PTSD. So I steeled myself for another complaint about too much painful law stuff. 

Even worse:  “They’re all too damn long.”

Ever since my friend Nancy interrupted my endless elevator speech a couple of months ago, I’ve been terribly self-conscious about size. By some measures, good editing involves removing as many words as possible. Yet look at the summary in “My Story So Far”: a crushing 1,711 words. Plus six pictures. And a zillion hyperlinks.

Unfortunately, I’m still trapped in legal disputes where every other party follows the same two-page playbook their only options appear to be “Stall” or “Lie.” As a result, I don’t have many opportunities to compare my nonfiction storytelling skills with anyone else’s.


So far there’s one other writer who’s interested in getting at the truth about my experience with PTSD, lawyers, and bureaucrats – the judge who recently wrote the opinion in my case for the Washington Court of Appeals

Lawyers and judges prefer their written work product to follow a predictable format. Maybe it’s because we want to keep our focus on the merits of each case, rather than hiding behind distracting bells and whistles. Or maybe it’s because we’re a hopelessly hidebound profession on the road to extinction. (It’s still an open question.) Anyway, a huge proportion of all legal writing – including most court opinions – begins with a short “factual background” section. Ideally, these summaries objectively encapsulate the evidentiary record and describe the parties’ claims in a manner that permits either side to argue for their position, and that helps readers quickly figure out what the case is about.

Lazy legal writers tend to pad their fact sections with too much extraneous information. Meanwhile, overzealous advocates can't resist applying too much spin. Paring your fact section down to the objective essentials is hard work. 

Here is how the Court of Appeals summarized my story so far. It's a lean 212 words:

In November 2015, Leishman’s physician diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and serious codependency. Leishman informed the Attorney General’s Office of his new diagnosis and ultimately submitted a formal request for reasonable accommodation of his disability in February 2016. In March 2016, Leishman, an openly gay man, also filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, alleging that his supervisor, Kerena Higgins, made homophobic comments towards him. Leishman felt that his PTSD was triggered by Higgins’s comments and her micromanagement of his work. During a meeting with Higgins to discuss Leishman’s disability accommodation and Higgins’s comments, Leishman became aggressive, raised his voice, and pounded his fists. [As the Complaint states, this occurred when my supervisor accused me of faking my disability.] 

Higgins complained to the Attorney General’s Office about Leishman’s inappropriate conduct and the Attorney General’s Office placed Leishman on home assignment. The Attorney General’s Office retained Ogden Murphy Wallace to conduct an independent investigation into Leishman’s sexual orientation discrimination claim against Higgins, and Higgins’s allegation that Leishman was inappropriate during their meeting. 

Ogden Murphy Wallace drafted a report concluding that “Leishman has not established support for his complaint of discrimination against him based on sexual orientation as prohibited by Attorney General’s Office polices.” The Ogden Murphy Wallace Report also concluded that “Mr. Leishman’s conduct during the March 1 meeting [with Higgins] violated expected standards of conduct for his position as reflected in his job description.” The Attorney General's Office terminated Leishman on May 7, 2016.

The Court of Appeals opinion goes on for several pages to explain how various legal authorities apply to these facts in this specific procedural posture. The end result of the appeal is my complete vindication:  the Court reinstated my claims against Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC, Seattle’s sleaziest bottom-feeding law firm®.” It only took two years for the legal system to correct the judge's mistaken dismissal of my claims based on an inapplicable technicality.

The Courts of Appeals’ three simple factual paragraphs aren’t exactly the summary I would have written if I were a judge. Frankly they’re shorter than I’m capable of at this stage of my recovery. Nevertheless, the court fairly and concisely identified the essential players; summarized the background context; and included all the essential factual information a reader would need in order to understand the court’s legal analysis. 


One sentence from the Court of Appeals’ factual recitation encapsulates the entire tragic story:
The Attorney General’s Office retained Ogden Murphy Wallace to conduct an independent investigation into Leishman’s sexual orientation discrimination claim against Higgins, and Higgins’s allegation that Leishman was inappropriate during their meeting.
As the pro se plaintiff in this case, I happen to know the highlighted text is the crux of every subsequent legal dispute related to my doomed employment by the Attorney General’s Office as Chief Legal Advisor to Western Washington University. 

Interestingly, the same sentence also jumped out to me as an experienced editor. When someone is trying to trim down a document, you look for certain quirks of language. Some of the literary “tells” signaling potential bloat include excessive use of passive voice, clichéd phrases, run-on sentences, and mismatched parallels. One example of that last category is when a sentence includes a list containing only two brief items. My eyebrows go up whenever a writer marks his or her subconscious need to pause for breath by putting a comma before the “and” connecting two supposedly equal and closely linked concepts. 

Such as the comma in the highlighted text from the Court of Appeals’ opinion.


Despite all the overlong blog posts, my argument actually is very simple. And quite English Major-y. There should be a period where the comma appears in the Court’s key sentence:  
The Attorney General’s Office retained Ogden Murphy Wallace to conduct an independent investigation into Leishman’s sexual orientation discrimination claim against Higgins.
Period.

That’s what the Attorney General’s Office and Ogden Murphy Wallace said publicly when they identified Ogden Murphy Wallace’s assignment as part of the State’s rigorous and transparent contract procurement process. That’s what the lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office and their attorney-investigator told me. That’s what my Complaint alleges. And that’s the only way the rest of the story makes sense. My lawyer would never have allowed me be interrogated alone for over an hour if she or I had known my employers were secretly looking for a way to justify firing me, rather than asking their investigator to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into a specific complaint regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation.  

It’s true that senior lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office made the mistake of asking their investigator to also look into a separate supervisor complaint about my workplace conduct, without amending the contract documents. But that’s not what they told the public, my lawyer, and me. And that’s not what the State's vendor contract authorized. 

The sad result speaks for itself. The final Ogden Murphy Report ignored extensive evidence documenting explicit and implicit homophobia. Instead, the Attorney General’s Office had their lawyer-investigator whitewash my superiors’ conduct while repeating a litany of secret complaints from the same dishonest and bigoted bureaucrats who’d already decided to get rid of me – all without giving my lawyer or me a chance to respond. To the contrary, my former employers refused to listen when my lawyer and doctor tried to tell them about the relationship between my disability and my frustrated behaviour. Then when they realized their mistake they tried to cover it up with more lies and abuse. That seems wrong to me. 

So I guess I’ve managed to edit my elevator speech down not just to a single sentence, but to a single period replacing a suspicious comma. Now let’s see what the other side can say to top that.