Monday, January 9, 2023

Starting Over


For New Year’s, we had the highest tides I’ve ever seen in Bellingham. For Christmas, we were snowed in by a freak ice storm. For solstice, I was trapped at home with covid. 


After a long hard year, Bear and I found ourselves surrounded by gloom and doom. But the end is finally in sight.


Hope comes more easily in springtime. Five and a half years ago, in May 2017, I emerged from the fog of PTSD and embarked on a couple of hopeful adventures. 


First, I filed a lawsuit against Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC. They’re the supposedly “independent” private investigators the State’s lawyers used to justify firing me from my position as general counsel to Western Washington University. Despite the impact of living with PTSD, I thought the Ogden Murphy Wallace lawsuit would let me use my legal skills to clear my professional reputation and protect my family.


Second, I started publishing essays on this blog. In Phase I of blogging, covering posts in 2017 and 2018, I took advantage of my newfound freedom from thirty years of writer’s block by exploring a variety of topics and styles. My favorite essays about family were “I Come From Good People” and “Sure of You.” My favorite essay about brains was “Inside Out.” My favourite essay about Showtune Night in Canada was “Six Degrees of Kristin Chenowith.” Thanks to the mysteries of Google’s algorithm, the three most viewed blog posts were “About My Yale Classmate Brett Kavanaugh,” “Thing 1 and Thing 2,” and “Fifty Shades of Green Gables.”

Phase II covered posts in 2019 and 2020. I got more ambitious about extended storytelling and the craft of writing. I published a week of “Rock Bottom Stories,” as well as other connected essays about topics like my dramatically improved mental health, various besetting plagues, and the comforts of dog ownership. For the first time I confronted my experiences as a gay man coming out of the closet at the height of the AIDS epidemic. And I wrote about the traumas and triggers I’d experienced while trying to shine a spotlight on dishonest government lawyers. 

Frankly I got carried away with that last topic. Sleazy lawyer stories were taking over the blog, like an oversized moon whose gravitational pull turns ordinary tides into tsunamis. When I looked at the statistics for 2020 I was aghast. I vowed I wouldnt start Phase III until I freed myself from the power of the Lawyer dark side. 

Over the last couple of years, most of my writing ended up in other places besides this blog. But I’m proud of the essays I published here as well, including deeper explorations of community, family, memory, and mental illness. By joining The Narrative Project, I learned about the craft of writing, story-telling through trauma, and finding a writer’s life and community. I assigned myself a graduate reading list in psychology and neuroscience. And I observed my thoughts and feelings through hours of mindfulness and loving kindness meditation. 


Along the way, I slowly learned to clear my head. I’m still oblivious to lots of important things, starting with everything social, particularly with the gays. But eventually I learned to think clearly by thinking like a writer, not a lawyer – at least, not like the kind of lawyer Attorney General Bob Ferguson would hire.

In November 2017, King County Superior Court Judge John Ruhl dismissed my claim against Ogden Murphy Wallace on a legal technicality.


It was important technicality. Washington law immunizes whistleblowers from liability for claims based on their communications to government agencies. One of the questions before the court in my case was whether whistleblower immunity applies to paid communications by government contractors, like Ogden Murphy Wallace’s supposedly “independent” investigation report attacking my character and competence. In August 2021, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that government contractors can’t be sued for injuries that are “directly based” on communications like the Ogden Murphy investigation report. 


Our busy trial judge was so focused on the whistleblower statute that he overlooked my other claims against Ogden Murphy Wallace – the ones that weren’t based on any protected whistleblower communication, such as the investigators’ repeated lies about their contractual assignment. Unfortunately, everyone else in the legal process was also distracted by the shiny statutory construction bauble. I spent the next few years trapped in a Kafka-esque struggle to find a state tribunal that was interested in hearing how the State’s lawyers and investigators colluded in government contract procurement fraud, civil rights violations, and ongoing acts of concealment and obstruction. 


After losing my state court claim against the OMW Defendants in the trial court, then winning, then losing, then winning, then losing, I lost my original lawsuit for good in June 2022 when the Washington Supreme Court declined further review.

The most interesting event in my state court lawsuit occurred on October 20, 2017. The day before my response was due to Ogden Murphy Wallace’s whistleblower immunity motion, the defendants produced a suspicious document related to their investigation:  the only surviving copy of the 3/16/16 “Investigation Scope Email” from Ogden Murphy investigator Patrick Pearce to the State’s employment attorneys. This smoking gun email revealed I was the victim of a wrongful termination cover-up scheme involving senior lawyers at the AGO, including some of Bob Ferguson’s top lieutenants.


While my original lawsuit against Ogden Murphy wound its way through its doomed appeal, I began tracking down additional incriminating evidence through Public Records Act requests and administrative complaints. Unlike Ogden Murphy, I’m an actual whistleblower. Meanwhile, the State and its co-conspirators continued to execute their strategy of stonewalling, gaslighting, and spoliation.


The State refused to respond to my notice of claim and mediation invitation, and threated to sue me instead. So in April 2020, I filed another lawsuit in state court, this one against the Attorney General’s Office, the Governor’s Office, Western Washington University, and their corrupt employees. I was shocked when the State Defendants chose to remove all of my damage claims to federal court. I felt like Br’er Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch. Before I tried to repackage myself as an appellate lawyer and judicial candidate a few years ago, I spent two decades managing complex federal litigation at Bogle & Gates, the ACLU, and Davis Wright Tremaine. I’m much more comfortable litigating in federal rather than in state court.


However, it turned out removal was just another short-sighted stall tactic by the State’s lawyers. I didn’t realize cases in the Western District of Washington were paralyzed because our court had the most vacancies of any federal court in the country. After the rest of the baby boomer judges all retired, Judge Richard Jones and Judge Ricardo Martinez held down the fort alone for several years. Our Washington senators and the local legal community succeeding in preventing Donald Trump from making any judicial appointments to fill the vacancies. My lawsuit against the State slowed to a crawl as unfortunate collateral damage. We didn’t even have a trial date or a case schedule.

Once several Biden judges were confirmed, however, the federal court finally returned to a normal litigation schedule. The two-year delay gave me enough time to improve my mental health and to gather a mountain of incriminating evidence. On September 23, 2021, Judge Jones denied the State Defendants’ long-delayed motion to dismiss my claims. Instead, the judge granted my motion to file a detailed amended complaint that includes new damage claims against Ogden Murphy Wallace as well as against the Attorney General’s Office, the Governor’s Office, WWU, and their employees. 


It’s as if all the frustrations of my original state court lawsuit never happened. Now we’re on a regular federal court litigation schedule. This month we’re waiting for Judge Jones rulings on the State Defendants’ frivolous Third Motion to Dismiss (here’s my response and their reply) and the Ogden Murphy Wallace Defendants’ motion to dismiss some of my new claims (here’s my response and their reply). Depositions in the Federal Lawsuit are scheduled to begin in February, with a jury trial set for January 2024 in Seattle.

I billed more hours of legal work in 2022 than any year since I was a young litigation associate – plus walking at least six miles a day with Bear to keep my head clear. I also had oral arguments in at least ten court hearings in 2022, which sets a personal record. The hearings were all in my Public Records Act case in state court, which is set for a bench trial before Judge Mary Sue Wilson on February 6-7, 2023, in Thurston County Superior Court. 


In 1972, Washington voters enacted the most transparent government accountability law in the nation. I’ve submitted dozens of requests to state and local agencies under the Public Records Act. With the sole exception of the Office of the Governor, each agency acknowledged my PRA requests within five days as required by the statute. In October 2020, I emailed the three public record requests to the Office of the Governor as directed by its webpage. The State’s email servers diverted my emails as “junk.” About the same time, the same thing happened with my emails to addressees at several other government agencies – apparently someone put my name and website on some kind of internet “no-fly” list. 


Sadly for the Governor’s Office, the Assistant Attorney General assigned to communicate with me on behalf of the State has a bad habit of ignoring my emails, regardless of whether they end up in his inbox or his junk folder. By the time his clients and his supervisors realized their lawyer dropped the ball, they’d already incurred millions of dollars in potential statutory penalties by delaying the Governor’s response to my public records requests for over a year.


Once again, the State and its lawyers refused to take responsibility, instead blaming me for their communication errors. So I filed a separate Public Records Act lawsuit against the Governor’s Office. We’re scheduled for a two-day bench trial in Olympia in February. Here’s my lawyer’s Opening Trial Brief.

In August 2021, the world seemed to be approaching the end of the covid pandemic. The Canadian border finally reopened, at least to visitors who uploaded their vaccination status and recent negative test results to an app. Vancouver Men’s Chorus began rehearsing, but only masked and in limited numbers. 


We also seemed to be approaching the end of my lawsuits against the State and Ogden Murphy Wallace. In the federal lawsuit, Judge Jones recognized my disability and granted the reasonable accommodation I requested. In my original state lawsuit, the Washington Supreme Court rejected Ogden Murphy Wallace’s claim that lawyers are above the law. 


However, we were actually far from the end – both with the coronavirus pandemic and with my efforts to hold the State and its lawyers accountable. It wasn’t even the beginning of the end. But as Winston Churchill would say, we finally reached the end of the beginning.

In 2021, two longtime members of Vancouver Men’s Chorus commissioned a new work by our resident accompanist and composer Dr. Stephen Smith. They wanted a song that would express the hope and joy the choir felt when we were finally able to sing together again after eighteen months of pandemic isolation and silence. Stephen chose to set to music an 1899 poem by Thomas Hardy. Hardy was one of those gloomy Victorian who looked at the bleak modern world and sighed, yet somehow managed to find hope. 


The original title of “The Darkling Thrush” was “The Century’s End.” Stephen arranged the four stanzas as a unison chant, then a two-part duet, then a trio, then with all four sections of the chorus in full harmony. Hardy’s poem begins in desolate twilight, with a storm approaching as “every spirt upon earth seemed fervourless as I.” Suddenly “a voice arose among the bleak twigs.” An ancient song thrush “chose to fling his soul upon the growing gloom.” In Stephen’s arrangement, the thrush’s song is a fiddler’s reel. In the wild, the male thrush uses his distinctive song to attract a mate in the dark.


In the folklore of the English countryside, the thrush is known as the bird who sings in the darkest hour. At the conclusion of Hardy’s poem, the narrator recognizes “there trembled through his happy good-night air / Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew / And I was unaware.” 


Even when the days get shorter and the nights get darker, we know the light will return. Let us begin the new year in kindness and hope.

March 2023 litigation update:

My lawsuit asserting claims against the Office of the Governor under the Public Records Act was set for trial on Monday, February 2, 2023. However, on the Friday before trial we learned we'd lost our slot to a three-week jury trial involving bull-goring injuries and cattle prod experts. Instead, we held our two-day bench trial on May 1-2, 2023. Closing arguments are scheduled for May 25, 2023.

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