ROGER A. LEISHMAN
P.O. Box 2207
Bellingham, WA 98227
April 25, 2017
Attorney General of Washington
1125 Washington Street SE
PO Box 40100
Olympia, WA 98504-0100
PO Box 40100
Olympia, WA 98504-0100
Seattle, WA 98101
Re: Leishman v. Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC and Patrick Pearce
The late great humor magazine Spy, which coined the unshakable epithet “short-fingered vulgarian” for Donald Trump, used to run a regular column entitled “Dear Bob.” Across town at the New Yorker, then-incumbent Bob Gottlieb was magazine's third editor, following the reigns of legends Harold Ross and William Shawn. Because the New Yorker itself had never run a letter to the editor, Spy decided to do it for them.
So I am comfortable with addressing this Dear Bob letter to you, without knowing whether you will ever deign to read it yourself. It tells a story both my friends and numerous others who follow your exploits should know, concerning tragic events that occurred on your watch. I’m writing this because I’m tired of coming out one person at a time. Unfortunately, you will have to wait until witnesses are deposed in my lawsuit against your unscrupulous vendor Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC before you can tell your own version of the story, because my settlement agreement with the State precludes you and your colleagues from making public statements about me until then.
Nevertheless, I will endeavor to tell the story as fairly and clearly as I can – certainly not a skill I learned from my immediate superiors at the Attorney General’s Office when I served as Western Washington University’s general counsel.1 I apologize in advance for this letter’s length. I have attempted to draft pithy summaries elsewhere, and of course the complaint I am filing in King County Superior Court this week speaks for itself. Clearly I have too much time on my hands these days.
1Folks in the Bellingham AGO office and at Western use the titles “general counsel” and “chief legal advisor” interchangeably, even though the AGO’s formal style guide limits the former title to the lead lawyer advising the State’s other constitutional officers, and applies the latter title to the lead lawyer for all other state agencies.
I do not apologize for responding to the AGO’s abuse with black humor and writerly language. I remain unemployed, stuck at home by debilitating PTSD symptoms your subordinates caused and then denied. So read on. Laugh and weep.
Why I’m suing the hacks you hired to frame me
Bureaucracies can be cruel to outsiders, including LGBT individuals and persons with disabilities. Responsible organizations therefore engage outside investigators when a whistleblower alleges serious adverse employment actions were taken for invidious and illegal reasons. They recognize internal investigations may be tainted by the effects of confirmation bias, internal politics, and personal prejudice – potentially resulting in an echo chamber that amplifies noise and drowns out the truth.
The impact of bureaucratic cruelty increases exponentially when such ostensibly independent professionals fail to do their jobs. On March 2, 2016, complying with policies you adopted, I filed a sexual orientation discrimination complaint regarding an discriminatory encounter with my immediate supervisor. I contended the AGO acted on the basis of deeply rooted implicit and explicit homophobia when it took serious adverse action against me (such as giving $3,000 raises to every single Assistant Attorney General except me).
As provided by the AGO’s anti-discrimination procedures, the AGO appointed an ostensibly independent outside investigator to look into my complaint: Patrick Pearce, of Seattle law firm Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC. Ogden Murphy chose to become a mouthpiece for the AGO echo chamber, endorsing and accelerating a shameful rush to judgment about my character and competence.
Mr. Pearce all but ignored my actual discrimination complaint. Rather, the April 29, 2016 Ogden Murphy Report focused on a second purported investigation topic – “Employee Conduct During 3/1/16 Meeting” – that I was unaware of, and would never have consented to having joined to and eclipsing my discrimination complaint. Crediting only cherry-picked AGO witnesses and self-serving documents, parroting unrebutted and unreliable hearsay, ignoring my documented disability, and contradicting Mr. Pearce’s own representations to me, the Ogden Murphy Report opines that the AGO did nothing untoward, but that I acted unprofessionally and without any justification. Just two years ago, the State paid $450,000 to another whistleblower employee who was the victim of Mr. Pearce’s equally clumsy hatchet-wielding.
Immediately upon receiving the Ogden Murphy Report, the AGO fired me – without ever listening to my lawyer or doctors, and without giving me the opportunity to respond to the Report itself, or to most of the catalog of supposed offenses it regurgitated. It took another six months before my disability lawyer was able to obtain a monetary settlement from the State after mediation. For the last year I have been debilitated by these traumatic events and have chosen to remain silent, but I am finally ready to move on.
After a long career promoting LGBT and children’s issues, I intend to focus my future advocacy on mental illness and other disabilities, using my own story as a cautionary tale. In light of my many years of experience as a civil rights lawyer, it makes sense that one way I am choosing to tell the story of my own experience with PTSD and discrimination is through the lawsuit I am filing this week in King County Superior Court against Ogden Murphy and Mr. Pearce.
I am also well underway on a memoir about the trauma I endured at the hands of tormentors in my youth and at the AGO three decades later. At this point in my progress, my doctor has encouraged my book project as therapeutic. My working title is “Running With Chainsaws: Tales of Sex, Religion, and Mental Illness.” It is funny, frank, informative, and brutal. One of my primary themes is to show how the tyranny of the closet harms individuals and society. Even before completing the book manuscript, I am no longer willing to duck questions from my friends and former colleagues in Seattle about what happened to me at the AGO. I’m a writer now, not a lawyer. Hence this letter.
Wendy Bohlke’s Legacy
For thirty years, Wendy Bohlke served as Western’s general counsel, through the tenures of six university presidents. Wendy was and is a force of nature. She founded the Bellingham AGO office, managed it for over two decades, and provided exceptional lawyering to the university, all while raising a family and making her mark as a national and local bar leader. In 2001, Lisa Wochos joined the Bellingham AGO and began serving as part-time legal counsel to Western. Ms. Wochos previously worked as a public defender in California and Washington. When Ms. Bohlke retired in 2013, Ms. Wochos became Western’s full-time general counsel, and Kerena Higgins assume the role of part-time legal counsel to the university. Ms. Higgins had spent most of her twelve-year legal career doing Labor & Industries work at the AGO, but in recent years also represented local community colleges.
Sarah Reyes succeeded Ms. Bohlke as Bellingham Section Chief a decade ago. By 2015 the office had grown substantially, yet all nine lawyers and much of the staff still reported directly to Ms. Reyes. In January 2015, her supervisor, Regional Services Division Chief Michael Shinn, concluded the demands on Ms. Reyes were unsustainable. He proposed the creation of a new reporting structure, with most of the attorneys in the office reporting to two “team leaders,” who in turn would report to the Section Chief. Half of the attorneys in the office work on DSHS dependency and termination issues, so creating a Children’s Team was a logical choice. The draft organization chart clumped together two L&I and two education attorneys, with the office’s senior L&I attorney serving as supervisor. The remaining attorney in the Bellingham AGO office, Senior Counsel Melissa Nelson, primarily handles appeals in children’s administration matters, but also represents Whatcom Community College. Although Ms. Nelson is a member of and attends meetings with both the Children’s Team and the Education Team, she reports to the Section Chief rather than to one of the team leaders.
Mr. Shinn’s proposal focused on the need to relieve Ms. Reyes, and did not address how the changes might affect the arrangement at Western. As it turned out, the senior L&I attorney left the AGO in Spring 2016. Ms. Wochos had already announced her retirement. Ms. Higgins was appointed as team leader of both the L&I Team (supervising two brand new attorneys) and the Education Team.
In 2014, my former partner and his husband had announced they planned to move out of Seattle and start a new business. They ended up choosing Bellingham, where my parents happen to have lived since 1981. Jason and Brenden moved here in November 2014. For eight months I was a fulltime single parent alone in Seattle with three young children – probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Although I already was weary of my job as a litigation partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, the new family arrangement made it untenable. I left DWT in March 2015, but the position I counted on had fallen through. After months of frustrating job search, in June 2015 I applied for a vacant L&I position in the Bellingham AGO office. Then, after I had already submitted my L&I application, the Western general counsel position also became open.
Everyone at my L&I interview agreed Western was a much better fit. In fact, it was my dream job, in the perfect location for my family. When one of my DWT partners found about my new position, he laughed and said that when he was a young attorney, his mentor told him Ms. Bohlke had the best lawyer job in Washington, and he should plan his career so he would be ready to step in when she finally retired. I indeed found it to be the most interesting and congenial role of my entire diverse career.
That same week Western President Bruce Shepard announced he would retire at the end of the upcoming school year. This made the general counsel position even more attractive, because I knew I would have the chance to become familiar with the job over the following year, then work with a new president who never knew Ms. Bohlke. I had already learned the significance of this particular opportunity from my experience in Chicago as Director of the ACLU of Illinois’ LGBT Rights Project. Local gay rights hero John Hammell had founded the Project a decade before. His successor lasted less than a year. I thoroughly enjoyed my five-year mission in Chicago, before choosing to come home to Washington. As the saying goes, it’s always easier to be the third wife than the second wife. (The fifth Director of the LGBT Rights Project in Chicago has thrived in the position for fifteen years now; I’m sure there’s a Dr. Who analogy in here somewhere as well.)
When I interviewed for the Western general counsel position a few weeks later, Ms. Higgins was again one of the interviewers. Concluding she was not a candidate, I asked her point blank why not. She said she wanted to get management experience instead. Ms. Reyes later confirmed Ms. Higgins had indeed been told she could not seek both roles. That is not the entire story, however. In my first week on the job I was copied on a letter from Mr. Shinn to President Shepard informing him of my appointment, and cataloging how my experience and professional credentials made me such a good fit for the position. President Shepard had summoned Mr. Shinn and Education Division Chief Dave Stolier to his office earlier that year to bluntly tell them what kind of a general counsel Western needed. Abraham Lincoln probably could not have filled Wendy Bohlke’s shoes. But I began my tenure with everyone remarking on their good fortune that someone with my background and credentials wanted to come to Bellingham and take a government lawyer job just as Ms. Wochos was retiring.
The AGO’s recipe for disaster
Western is Washington’s third largest public university. UW and WSU each has its own dedicated Division of the AGO. Experienced lawyers from the AGO’s Education Division represent all the other state universities. Only community colleges – and Western – rely on lawyers from the AGO’s catchall Regional Services Division. And other than me (and nominally Ms. Wochos in the weeks before her retirement), no other chief legal officer for a major Washington state agency has ever reported to a “team leader.” Indeed, I am unaware of a college or university general counsel anywhere who reports to a part-time staff attorney also working in the counsel’s office. Every non-AGO attorney I describe this arrangement to finds it to be bizarre.
Tragically, my superiors at the AGO invariably had the opposite reaction, reflexively cheerleading each other’s supposed organizational genius. Worse, each insisted the arrangement was ideal not merely because they were in charge (hardly what a recovering Mormon with PTSD needs to hear), but also because it should have been obvious to me I had been placed in the best of all possible reporting structures. It felt positively Orwellian. So I prepared for my September 4, 2015 call with Mr. Shinn by looking at the entire AGO org chart, and challenged him to identify any lead counsel for a state agency other than me who reports to a team leader doing work for that same agency. His response was the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. OSPI, like the Governor’s Office, has its own general counsel on staff. OSPI’s lead lawyer at the AGO is a senior education attorney who reports directly not to a low level “team leader” but rather to Education Division Chief Dave Stolier. Mr. Stolier is the most distinguished education lawyer in the state, defense counsel in McLeary, and generously assists everyone throughout the AGO and state government. Like the Ogden Murphy Report’s discussion of “junior” and “senior” lawyers, Mr. Shinn’s analogy is completely inapposite to the dynamic at issue here.
Tellingly, after my departure the AGO eliminated the Western chief legal officer position, and instead advertised for a fulltime staff attorney reporting to Ms. Higgins. The AGO ultimately appointed Rob Olson, one of the Children’s Team attorneys in the Bellingham AGO office, whose only prior legal experience was as a public defender after briefly and unsuccessfully hanging out his own shingle. As with the cliché that the French are always fighting the last war, it is unfortunate that the AGO’s distaste for outsiders has left WWU with such limited legal options. It is also unfortunate for Ogden Murphy that it must now defend an indefensible management structure the AGO itself has already abandoned.
But as Ms. Higgins was fond of telling me, I knew all that when I took the job. And although I had qualms, I was convinced that it would not be a problem. Throughout my career I have reported to lawyers who were younger and less experienced than me. I am not a reflexive snob, and have worked with numerous fine lawyers who graduated from Seattle University. In most AGO offices, the team leader role is purely administrative, since any substantial decisions are made at the Division Chief level and above. Colleagues would describe me as easy going and agreeable. I loved my job and was committed to making the situation work, and I was confident we would succeed. But I was wrong, for four reasons.
Mental illness is real
First, and most importantly, I had no idea that I would be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and codependency after the AGO’s actions triggered debilitating symptoms rooted in trauma occurring thirty years before. By the time my healthcare providers and I figured out what was going on, in November 2015, it was too late to alter my superiors’ opinions of me, or to persuade them to take seriously the AGO’s obligations under the ADA and WLAD.
This year’s feature writing Pulitzer Prize went to a New York Times Magazine article about a Marine Corps marksman whose life was destroyed by PTSD. As I told a Bellingham friend who developed PTSD after serving as an Army Ranger medic in Afghanistan, I am sheepish about invoking the same DSM-V category as him. He told me not to be concerned, and that soldiers feel lucky they get so many folks’ respect. They worry instead about the many children and women who are scarred by the impact of earlier domestic abuse and do not have access to the help they need. Some healthcare practitioners nevertheless limit PTSD diagnoses to situations involving grievous physical violence. Others take a broader approach, and there even is a burgeoning literature about the traumatic effects of the closet. My own physician recently told me that even if he used a slightly different label for his diagnosis, the result would be the same: unshepherdly leaders at the AGO triggered my body’s toxic response to traumas I encountered as an overachieving but confused young gay Mormon thirty years before.
The Peter Principle in action
Second, I did not anticipate Ms. Higgins’ insecurity and incompetence. I have no reason to doubt that even as a novice manager she was prepared to supervise the new L&I attorneys, or to coordinate the Education Team and our monthly calls with Mr. Stolier and Mr. Shinn. But as you probably know from your own experience while in private practice, integrating a senior lateral attorney is a challenging management task for any organization, and requires skills and support she lacked. I bet Rob McKenna did not start work at Orrick being closely monitored by a novice team leader.
Meanwhile, it was clear from the start that Ms. Higgins considered herself to be Western’s “real” general counsel, even though my job description made me responsible for coordinating all legal services provided to Western. Her petty tyranny and officiousness would have been a challenge for any new employee. In my case they had the tragic effect of triggering serious new anxiety symptoms, because they paralleled the particular trauma I suffered as confused gay youth – when my church and family denied the very existence of gay people, and dishonest clergymen exercised what Mormons call “unrighteous dominion” over me.
Go ahead and flip a coin
Third, and I’m just going to be blunt with this one: no one had told me about the incompetence that pervades the AGO. In my quarter century of legal practice and bar leadership I had worked closely with several assistant attorneys general, all of whom are fine lawyers. Over those same years I also read numerous news accounts of dreadful malpractice at the AGO, such as missed appeal deadlines and the recent fiasco at the Department of Corrections. To see what the product of an actual independent investigation looks like, read the Yarmouth Wilsdon Report regarding the State’s early release of thousands of inmates. The report includes a damning indictment of malpractice, mismanagement, and dishonesty at the AGO.
The last two years have taught me the excellent AAGs I worked with while in private practice are the anomalies. Experienced practitioners and judges corroborate my observation that although the 550 AAGs include some exceptional attorneys and many dedicated public servants, the vast majority would never meet the standards of your former firm K&L Gates, my firm DWT, Ogden Murphy itself, or its defense lawyers at Lee Smart. You probably prefer a chess metaphor, but despite being quite crowded the AGO’s bench is not deep enough to field a competitive football team. Indeed, my experience watching AAGs tackle novel legal problems was that outside the Solicitor General’s office, even senior attorneys would get it right only about half the time. Clients might as well flip a coin.
Unfortunately, Ms. Higgins is also typical of the AGO in her insularity and insecurity. As Deputy AG Christina Beusch informed us at the annual orientation for new AAGs in September 2015, the AGO considers itself to be in the running for “best public law office in the country.” That is delusional. In hindsight I should not have been surprised when the AGO exposed the State and Ogden Murphy to substantial liability by its negligent handling of my accommodation request and discrimination complaint.
The Washington constitution provides that only the Attorney General can represent state agencies. That might have been an effective model a century ago. But as with Washington’s education funding and sales/B&O tax systems, it is woefully outdated. Decades of denial and political stalemate have left the AGO overextended and under-resourced. You yourself have made this crisis a priority, and are justly proud of such progress as finally giving all the attorneys (except me) long overdue raises in October 2015. Nevertheless, continuing structural problems explain in part but do not excuse the AGO’s egregious pattern of such blunders as its inept handling of my accommodation request, its advice to release thousands of inmates early, its aggravation of problems in the foster system, and the erroneous deadlines included in the State’s COBRA notices.
The AGO’s ideal hired gun
Finally, I erroneously believed the arrival in March 2016 of an independent observer from a reputable firm like Ogden Murphy would halt the AGO’s march toward disaster. I hoped that the AGO would respond to my lawyer and doctors, and that we finally would have the opportunity for real dialogue that would salvage my career. Instead, the Ogden Murphy Report added further insult and injury. That is why you are reading this letter now.
While preparing my lawsuit, I found a skeleton in Ogden Murphy's closet with a suspicious resemblance to myself. This is not the first time Mr. Pearce’s shoddy work has cost taxpayers. He also drafted the Office of Insurance Commissioner’s Whitewash Report on Chief Hearing Officer Patricia Petersen. Judge Petersen had filed a whistleblower complaint against a superior in the OIC after he improperly pressured her to rule for the OIC in matters pending before her. Just as in my case, the State placed Judge Peterson on administrative leave, and hired Mr. Pearce to do a third-rate hatchet job investigation before firing her. She ended up getting a $450,000 settlement from her former employers. See, e.g., Talmadge Fitzpatrick’s memo and the Seattle Times’ and the Puget Sound Business Journal's reports. Mr. Pearce’s faux “independent” reports have now burdened taxpayers with at least two six-figure settlements. Perhaps the firm should consider a new slogan: “Ogden Murphy is the go-to firm for employers who want to commission an incompetent whitewash, then pay a hefty sum to their fired employees.”
Pulling my hair out
But back to the story. I started work at the AGO and Western in July 2015. The first three month brought typical challenges – a daunting learning curve, culture shock, a backlog of legal matters, and the hassles of moving my family to a new city. My clients also faced a confluence of extraordinary new legal problems, including a fire in the Chemistry Building started by an unsupervised student and the gearing up of the university president search. Meanwhile I was learning to navigate the separate byzantine bureaucracies of the AGO and Western.
At the same time, my body began to do strange new things. Many were wildly magnified versions of the mild anxiety symptoms I had successfully coped with for many years, such as trichotillomania, bruxism (teeth-grinding), and social anxiety. Others were completely new.
For example, trichotillomania is the compulsion to pull out your hair and eyelashes. I’ve had a mild case ever since high school. At particularly stressful times, without realizing it, I yank at the hair by my ears. This used to happen once or twice a year, and just for a few days. A barber once told me he’d seen similar pairs of small bald spots on only one other kind of neck – overwhelmed Asian grad students.
The new torment I felt in the weeks after I came to the AGO was totally different. Every day, all day, I would struggle to stop myself from ferociously rubbing my forehead and pulling out the hair on my scalp. Eventually, I serendipitously discovered I could distract myself some of the time by fiddling with plush toys, although doing so still made me terribly self-conscious. Even with the progress I’ve made in the last few months, I struggle with trichotillomania symptoms every single day. My forehead is throbbing as I type this paragraph now.
Crowded social events with strangers can be particularly stressful, such as the three day “AGO Academy” for new AAGs at a rustic Mount Rainier retreat. In a one-on-one conversation, Deputy AG Christina Beusch, a presenter at the Academy, was one of the few people other than baristas who have had the nerve to bluntly ask why I constantly fiddle with oversized pipe cleaners. I described trichotillomania to her.
My symptoms became overwhelmingly acute at the end of August 2015 with Ms. Higgins’ attempt to “coach” me after my miserably unsuccessful encounter with the new associated student officers – a destructive group of self-promoters who went on to put the entire Western administration through an unprecedented year of merry hell.
The next day I slumped in the chair in Ms. Reyes’ office, where we discussed our differing responses to stress, and my distress and confusion about what was happening to me. Ms. Reyes and I had a similar extended conversation in December. Unfortunately, she apparently failed to convey the real situation to Mr. Shinn. The Ogden Murphy Report cruelly and inaccurately described my various attempts to seek help as “efforts to undermine Ms. Higgins.”
A vicious cycle
As I have repeatedly acknowledged, I over relied on humor in responding to stressful social situations during this period. Like my frustration and heated response to Ms. Higgins’ offensive conduct during our March 1, 2016 meeting, this is a symptom of my disability – something I told both Ms. Higgins and Mr. Pearce, and that my psychiatrist corroborated. I’ve subsequently learned my single-minded focus on Ms. Higgins’ malignant approach to her supervisory role likewise is a common PTSD symptom. Changing one corner of the AGO org chart was indeed the obvious solution to a problem that should never have arisen, but I pursued it with a monomania that is typical of PTSD sufferers. My attorney later identified multiple alternative methods for the AGO to accommodate my disability, but the AGO refused to return her calls – even though black-letter disability law requires employers to engage in a robust interactive process.
The university’s burning legal problems forced me to take on a much more active role in my first weeks than anyone could have anticipated, which is also part of the reason that I was overfamiliar with the relative strangers I worked closely with. But another reason is even more directly related my PTSD. Mormons grow up with a lay all-male clergy, and from a young age we are called to serve in priesthood leadership positions. Any respect you receive is not personal to you, but goes with the calling, and woe to those who exercise unrighteous dominion over the people they are called to serve. As the Old Testament says, you assume the “mantle of the prophet.” I was hired as Western’s general counsel, I was qualified and prepared for the role, and I’m used to interacting with judges, law partners, and CEOs as respected colleagues. So I rolled up my sleeves and acted like a general counsel dealing with the university’s pressing legal problems. Meanwhile Ms. Higgins consciously and unconsciously aggrandized her own role.
There is nothing wrong with my family
This is not the time or place to finally offer my version of most of the events described in the Ogden Murphy Report. However, I do want to call out several particularly disturbing examples, such as your subordinates’ strange overreaction to an ordinary conversation I had on September 22, 2015, while waiting in the private reception area outside President Shepard’s office. During my two months at Western, I had already worked with all four women present, and one of them asked me about my family. So I told them I had a 7-year old son and two 10-year old daughters. As invariably happens, someone asked if the girls are twins. As usual I said no, they were born two weeks apart and adopted separately, one at birth and the other from the foster system three and a half years later. The girls are very different, and I described one as “ten going on six and still playing with dolls,” and the other as “ten going on sixteen,” and made a comment about wishing I could delay puberty.
I recently took my daughters to the excellent “For Girls Only” classes offered by Seattle Children’s Hospital. I was the only male in a room with fifty tween girls and their mothers and grandmothers. My pubescent daughter is becoming a delightful young woman. But I am more convinced than ever that I am hardly the first father, gay or straight, single or married, who has told someone at the office that part of him wishes his daughter could stay a little girl just a little bit longer. Nevertheless, this innocuous early episode became a central part of the AGO’s case against me – serving as a basis for denying me a raise in October 2015, appearing prominently on Mr. Shinn’s catalogue of my offenses on January 7, 2016 (and frustrating him when I refused to agree it reflected a “pattern of serious misjudgment”), showing up as a key bullet point in the belligerent February 4, 2016 letter to my therapist, and even reappearing and being described as “outlandish” in Mr. Shinn’s March 7, 2016 interim performance evaluation memorandum – even though none of the witnesses identified in that memo had any connection to an event that occurred six months before.
This strange obsession exemplifies the “closety” culture at the AGO, despite the presence of numerous LGBT employees. It reflects deeply rooted societal bias, and violates the WLAD. Employers generally cannot intrude into employees’ personal lives. Perhaps it’s a reaction to living under the glare of the Public Records Act, but many folks at the AGO are fiercely protective of their own privacy. For example, unlike me, Ms. Higgins does not have numerous large portraits of her children hanging in her office at Western. But inclusion means LGBT individuals and people with nonobvious disabilities are entitled to discuss their identities and their families if they choose. Unlike visible traits like race and gender, you have to come out every day. The quintessential “heterosexual privilege” is that someone like you is free to casually refer to meeting your wife and kids after work without raising eyebrows, but if I mention going on a date with a man or describe my family, I remain at risk of being accused of “flaunting my sexuality” and “bringing up personal stuff.”
Perhaps the puberty episode is some kind of Rorschach blot, and my reaction diverges wildly from the norm. But I am willing to bet at least a million dollars of Ogden Murphy’s money any jury will agree it is wrong to fire someone for what I said about my daughters. You should be ashamed to have your name associated with this team of bigoted hacks.
There is nothing wrong with singing in a gay chorus
I spent fifteen years singing in the Seattle Men’s Chorus, where one of my closest friends and fellow second tenor was State Senator Jamie Pedersen. (He’s another Yale Law grad and marriage equality advocate, and introduced me to my daughter’s birth parents twelve years ago.) During a break at a Monday evening rehearsal a few weeks after I started work, Jamie checked in to see how my new job was going. He asked how many AAGs worked at Western, and was startled to hear that there were less than 2 FTE of us, since Jamie is familiar with the much larger cohorts of attorneys serving UW and WSU. I briefly outlined the history of the lean staffing at WWU, and added my opinion it would fundamentally change the dynamic in the office to add more than one additional attorney. I mentioned the conversation to Ms. Higgins after I returned to the office. I subsequently got an email from Mr. Shinn asking me to file a formal lobbying report in light of his (mis)understanding from Ms. Higgins that I had lobbied Jamie “over dinner” about the AGO budget. I duly submitted my report correcting this mischaracterization, and didn’t think about it again — until “lobbying Senator Pedersen at dinner” was included as an example of the pattern of “serious misjudgments” Mr. Shinn described at our January 7, 2016 meeting.
Mere sloppiness was not enough for your management team, however. Channeling one Western employee’s bias, your representatives determined it was “insensitive and inappropriate” for me to use the analogy of the Seattle Men’s Chorus’ first conductor search in thirty-five years during a public Board discussion about the Trustees’ own presidential search process. To the contrary, I see your subordinates' reliance on this item as a further example of your office's deeply institutionalized homophobia, and its unlawful demand that I squeeze back into the closet.
I am not the first lawyer, before or after Lincoln, to rely on real world analogies in advising a client. For most of the Trustees, participating in a ED search while on a nonprofit board may be the prior experience with the most similarity to their paramount task of selecting a university president. Referring to the recent experience of a prominent regional arts organization (rather than to the numerous sports or business analogies I heard while at the AGO) is hardly unseemly. To the contrary, my 25-year participation in gay choruses is probably the most significant part of my life after my family and my now-destroyed career. The complaining employee had not been present for earlier Board sessions discussing the presidential search, and may not be aware that the individual Trustees themselves happen to be very familiar with Seattle Men’s Chorus, and asked me over the months about the progress of its conductor search. None of the Trustees ever suggested they found my conductor search analogy insensitive.
It was wrong to fire me because some fragile middle-aged white man in Bellingham could not handle being exposed to part of a conversation about the search experience at one of Seattle’s leading arts organizations. Regardless of whether bias comes from the AGO itself or from its client, you know perfectly well an employer cannot facilitate invidious discrimination.
The AGO’s actions reveal a pattern of institutional bias
NW Lawyer's recent President's column about the importance of self-examination in confronting bias crystalized my outrage over one glaring example of the AGO’s and Ogden Murphy’s negligence and obtuseness:
“[I]in a group meeting for the Bellingham Section to discuss diversity as a hiring focus, Mr. Leishman commented that the Bellingham Section seemed to be the only Attorney General's office without any straight white males. Straight male employees were in attendance at the meeting.”
Before leaving Seattle, I was the longtime board chair of the Initiative for Diversity, the Washington nonprofit that promotes diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. As Ms. Haynes notes in her column, “a firm cannot become more diverse until a firm knows how diverse it is not.” At the time I left the AGO, the Bellingham office had eight nonlawyer staff, all women. The eleven attorneys included seven women, a black man, a South Asian-American man, and two openly gay men. That adds up to zero straight white male employees.
I have not conducted any detailed analysis of AGO hiring, but such “pink collar ghettos” most often occur in economic sectors where wages are seriously depressed. I am offended by Ogden Murphy’s suggestion that I acted unprofessionally because delicate “[s]traight male employees” at the diversity meeting might be bothered by my demographic observation. (I know both men, and I suspect they will be a lot more bothered when they hear why I was fired.) Ogden Murphy should have gotten its facts and values straight, rather than collaborating with the AGO to find yet another opportunity to find fault with a threatening outsider who tells the truth.
Double secret probation
On October 14, 2015, Mr. Shinn called to tell me that I would not be getting a raise along with everyone else hearing the announcement the following day at the all-attorney AGO conference. He said Ms. Reyes and Ms. Higgins were unaware of this action, which I understood to refer to the fact that compensation and other substantive employment matters are handled at the Division Chief level and above.
There were no untoward incidents during the rest of Fall 2015. I continued to provide great legal work for Western, and to become more integrated into the Bellingham AGO Office. But I was frustrated at the continuing delay of Ms. Higgins’ routine evaluation of my performance. I wanted to make sure all of her issues had been resolved, and to have the opportunity to respond fully to any new concerns. In light of Mr. Shinn’s message to me on October 14, I was waiting to close the loop with Ms. Higgins before I reached out to him. I intended to ask him what I needed to do in order to escape from whatever double-secret probation he had imposed, since I knew that was beyond Ms. Higgins and Ms. Reyes’ pay grades.
Instead, after aggravating my anxiety by again delaying my interim performance evaluation, Mr. Shinn summoned me to Seattle to meet with him and Deputy Christina Beusch on January 7, 2016. Mr. Shinn began by listing my alleged offenses, reading from a document I still have never seen despite repeated requests to both the AGO and Ogden Murphy. He included prior complaints that I thought had already been handled directly with Ms. Higgins and the affected individuals at Western. This meeting was my first notice of the allegation that is the subject of my discrimination complaint.
I made a limited attempt to respond to some of the charges, particularly the new ones, but I do not consider this ambush to comply with any standard of decency or due process. Ms. Beusch became flushed and angry when I referred to the challenge of trying to serve my clients while learning to navigate the AGO’s and Western’s separate bureaucracies,2 and she ended the meeting by telling me I needed to be more “humble.”
2Ms. Reyes later told me some folks at the AGO are offended by the term. I meant no offense at the time.
2Ms. Reyes later told me some folks at the AGO are offended by the term. I meant no offense at the time.
Good days and bad days
In November 2015, my new physician in Bellingham had diagnosed me with PTSD and codependency, and referred me to a therapist who helped us figure out the relationship between my symptoms and the traumas I encountered as a gay Mormon youth. We began to look for ways to ameliorate the effects of my disability, and I informed the Ms. Reyes and others at the AGO of my more specific diagnosis.
A few days after my horrifying meeting with Ms. Beusch and Mr. Shinn, I came out to my parents as a person with PTSD, and let them know that as a result my job appeared to be in peril. I had delayed having this discussion because I did not want to cause them pain for their role in exposing me to the traumas of my youth, but I felt I couldn’t wait any longer because they were about to leave for their annual snowbird month in Hawaii. My mother could not sleep all night, and her blood pressure shot above 180. She told me later that week that I shouldn’t surprise them in Hawaii with any more news because she was almost out of her blood pressure medication. Fortunately, however, my parents have been very supportive throughout this painful process.
Emboldened by my successful conversation with my parents, I sat down with Ms. Higgins the next day and told her about my PTSD, and how I had delayed telling her because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings or blame her for being the unwitting trigger for my symptoms. At the time I thought the conversation although intense went well, and in general we were successful in communicating better and working together subsequently. But my symptoms continued.
Request for accommodation of my disability
Eventually I concluded I had no alternative to submitting a formal accommodation request. The AGO bureaucrats responded in their predictably inept and insensitive fashion. I was frustrated by their refusal to work together in adopting a questionnaire tailored to our particular situation, as required by the WLAD and ADA. Instead the AGO insisted on forwarding only a list of standard questions, many of which were obviously inapposite to the situation I had already described.
But I was outraged by the tone of the AGO’s letter to my therapist, and its aggressively hostile spin on every disputed event. My therapist’s reaction was to observe that these people obviously wanted to fire me. Whoever wrote and edited that letter, like the other documents cited in the Ogden Murphy Report, had obviously drunk so much AGO Kool-Ade they had lost touch with reality. That’s how confirmation bias works – and that’s why it is so important for organizations to conduct a searching self-examination, and to bring in competent and objective outside investigators.
“Employee Conduct During 3/1/16 Meeting”
Rather than our regular Tuesday check-in meeting, on March 1, 2016, I invited Ms. Higgins to my office for an extended conversation. I had given her and Ms. Reyes copies of my reasonable accommodation request several days before, and I wanted to make sure Ms. Higgins did not have any questions. One of my specific purposes in meeting that day was to ask whether she would support my then-pending accommodation request as a matter of courtesy and collegiality.
My other purpose was to talk to her for the first time about the homophobic allegation I had learned about in my meeting with Ms. Beusch and Mr. Shinn, and then seen amplified in the confrontational letter to my therapist. Six months before, Ms. Higgins and I had been working on a couple of FERPA matters involving the differential application of privacy laws to 17- and 18-year-old college students. I was having a casual private conversation with her as I opened my mail, which included an invitation to President Shepard’s annual holiday reception. I asked her rhetorically and ironically whether I should bring a freshman as my date to the event. (As I observed in my discrimination complaint, the correct answer to a non-rhetorical version of the question, both then and now, would be no.) Without ever saying anything to me, Ms. Higgins complained to Mr. Shinn that she understood me to be making a sexual allusion to her son, who is in high school.
Before our meeting on March 1, 2016, I gave Ms. Higgins a draft of my sexual orientation complaint for her to review. I did not want to submit it to the AGO without first giving her an opportunity to respond and to hear her side of the story.
Neither of my efforts was successful. Ms. Higgins emphatically rejected my request that she consider supporting an alternative reporting structure. I was hurt by her lack of compassion regarding my disability, and offended by her suggestion that I was faking PTSD symptoms to get out of an irritating reporting structure. She said things like “but you knew about it when you took the job,” and “why can’t you just deal with it.”
I was surprised by her insistence that she had done nothing wrong in connection with our fall discussion about the holiday party invitation. She did not appear to understand me when I said the pedophilia libel is particularly offensive to gay men. She said I was the one who owed her an apology. (I of course apologized for unintentionally offending her.) At one point I became quite heated, louder than in any of our previous conversations. This is not at all surprising, considering (a) interacting with Ms. Higgins as my supervisor was a primary PTSD trigger; (b) she was dismissive of my disability; and (c) she refused to acknowledge the possibility that implicit homophobia may have impaired her personnel actions. I was not threatening or insulting, just frustrated and angry. I understand from talking to veterans with PTSD that my level of reaction is a very typical response to bureaucratic situations. I immediately apologized to Ms. Higgins for turning up the volume, and we continued our frank conversation.
Employees with PTSD are at serious risk from confrontational situations. That’s one of the reasons we may need appropriate accommodations at work. I vividly remember the moment during the meeting when I thought I might indeed erupt with righteous anger – when Ms. Higgins had the chutzpah to tell me I needed to show more “empathy.”
Nevertheless, I did not erupt, and by the end of the meeting I thought we had successfully discussed our issues and achieved a reasonable level of closure, as with our session in January. Ms. Higgins did not suggest then or at any time later that she thought my behavior required any kind of official response or intervention. I did not think she felt threatened or alarmed. To the contrary, we ended the meeting on a positive note and continued to work together all week with our normal cooperation and frequent communication.
The wheels of injustice grind slowly. Ironically, by March 2016, my relationships with virtually all my colleagues at the AGO and my clients at Western had blossomed. As the Ogden Murphy Report acknowledges, there were no complaints about my work or professionalism in Winter 2016 – until after I filed my discrimination complaint. To the contrary, numerous clients at Western praised me for my exceptional legal work and invaluable judgment.
I submitted my sexual orientation discrimination complaint on March 2, 2016. During that week I continued to work closely with Ms. Higgins and my other AGO colleagues to serve our clients at Western. I also made an attempt to respond to the gaping logical holes in Ms. Beusch’s letter denying my accommodation request. Apparently my discrimination complaint and my final email to her that week pushed her over the edge.
The morning of Monday, March 7, 2016, Mr. Shinn informed me by email we would be meeting in my Western office that day at noon. One of the first things he said when he arrived was that the AGO had received my discrimination complaint, which would be “taken seriously,” and that whoever was appointed to investigate it would be contacting me. We did not discuss my discrimination allegations at all. He handed me the two letters dated March 7, 2016. We did not discuss their content, or any performance issues. He didn’t elaborate further, and neither of the two letters made any reference to my meeting with Ms. Higgins a week before. I gave Mr. Pearce a copy of Ms. Beusch’s March 7 letter describing my home assignment, but it is not included in the Ogden Murphy Report’s list of materials he reviewed. A judge or jury will infer that the AGO chose not to put anything in writing about their retaliatory scheme until after it was confident Ogden Murphy was on board.
Style v. substance
Like the secret list of accusations Mr. Shinn brought to our January meeting, his March 7, 2016 evaluation memo made me pull my hair out, literally and figuratively. In particular, it was unbelievably discouraging to see what short shrift was given to the merits of my legal work. Since arriving eight months before I had worked tirelessly, efficiently, and effectively on a wide variety of matters, of varying degrees of complexity including exceptionally challenging legal problems - some of which involved cleaning up terrible messes created by my AGO colleagues and predecessors.
I had provided Mr. Shinn with a detailed list of WWU projects in December, none of which were ever described or addressed. I still have never had the opportunity to respond to most of the AGO’s purported concerns, and I have never heard a single word of appreciation from my superiors at the AGO. Although the final paragraph of the Mr. Shinn’s memorandum suggests that the evaluation was intended to be objective and data driven, the format, skewed sample, and leading questions described in his memo are much more like a political “push poll” designed to generate a predetermined outcome.
A serious performance review would not be this flawed in procedure or perfunctory in substance. But I suppose that’s what I should have expected from lawyers who can’t get basic principles of constitutional law right, but who are masters at filling out forms. (The State still owes me hundreds of dollars for travel expenses because I never could get the reimbursement app to work right for me.)
I thought my home assignment was a short term administrative step, and that while waiting I would be called upon to answer questions about the numerous pressing Western matters I had been working on. Instead, other than exchanging emails with Ms. Reyes and Human Resources about my schedule, no one from the AGO or Western ever contacted me. Not once.
To the contrary, the AGO did not even forward my personal or bar correspondence. For example, on April 8, 2016, retired Superior Court Judge John Meyer, who is on the Western Board of Trustees, kindly sent me a solicitous note. However, the AGO chose not to forward it to me until May 3, 2016, after Ogden Murphy had already submitted its damning Report. A disgruntled and disturbed former Western student filed a bar complaint (my first) that was summarily dismissed, but I did not hear about either the filing or dismissal for months because I remained incommunicado.
The impact of both this harsh house arrest and the continuing uncertainty greatly increased my anxiety, just as I had explained to Ms. Reyes in December 2015. I believed then, and believe now, that the AGO placed me on this abusive home assignment in retaliation for my exercising my legal rights rather than complying with Ms. Beusch’s authoritarian definition of “humble.” I am also convinced the AGO commissioned the Ogden Murphy Report in retaliation for my complaint.
Meanwhile, AAG Kari Hansen, the employment attorney representing the AGO at the time, refused even to communicate with my attorney about my disability, my accommodation request, my home assignment, or my long delayed performance review – informing Ms. Phelan the AGO was waiting for Ogden Murphy to complete its investigation into my sexual orientation discrimination complaint.
Ogden Murphy’s misrepresentations
One of the few times the AGO contacted me during my home assignment was to let me know of Ogden Murphy’s appointment. Mr. Pearce, who is a “licensed private investigator,” took the job in his nonlawyer role as an “independent outside investigator for workplace complaints including charges of harassment or discrimination.”
Before meeting with Mr. Pearce at his office on March 17, 2016, I asked the AGO Human Resources representative to confirm the scope of Ogden Murphy’s inquiry. She got back to me before the interview and stated it was limited to the sexual orientation issues raised by my complaint. Mr. Pearce said the same thing when we met. He also told me his role was not to resolve disputed factual issues or make credibility determinations, but rather to collect relevant evidence and present it to the AGO.
The AGO fired me immediately after receiving the Ogden Murphy Report
On May 7, 2016, my attorney and I were summoned to the AGO office in Seattle. There was no discussion. Instead, Ms. Beusch and Mr. Shinn handed us a letter terminating my employment, together with copies of Mr. Pearce’s final report dated April 29, 2016.
When I read the Ogden Murphy Report, I had three immediate reactions. The first was disgust to see its character assassination of me and its unsolicited whitewash of the AGO, with virtually nothing in the Report about my actual discrimination complaint. The second reaction was amazement that a reputable Seattle law firm would produce such laughably third-rate work product. And the third was to recognize from the Report’s candid acknowledgment that I never really had a chance – my superiors secretly concluded I was a “bad fit” within weeks of my arrival, and proceeded to make my life hell for the next six months until they could get rid of me with the obliging help of Ogden Murphy. Months of hard work and vain hope had accomplished nothing beyond aggravating my disability.
My attorney made a settlement demand in May 2016, but the AGO repeatedly delayed responding. We finally mediated in October 2016. The State had erroneously denied my COBRA application, and I could not afford to buy both my daughter’s and my medications. Meanwhile my symptoms worsened, and eventually I became suicidally depressed for the first time in thirty years. The mediation itself and its outcome were frustrating, but they provided a measure of closure that improved my condition, and the money helped my family survive what sometimes feels like a series of biblical plagues.
The Ogden Murphy Report gets basic facts backwards.
At best, the Ogden Murphy Report gets important chronologies and other facts wrong. More likely, the Report is intentionally misleading. For example, the Report represents that during my September 7, 2015 conversation with Ms. Higgins I was offended because at that time I perceived her reaction to reflect implicit homophobia after she accused me of pedophilia. That is not true. I did not know she had in mind her own teenaged son, and she said nothing to me about him; I thought she was simply overacting to a casual comment.
As I noted in my original discrimination complaint and in the detailed chronology I provided to Ogden Murphy, there is an obvious double standard at the AGO about who is allowed to make similar jokes. I had no idea this particular episode was one of the bases of adverse employment action taken by the AGO, until I heard it included among Mr. Shinn’s accusations at our January 7, 2016 meeting. At that time I was indeed shocked and offended. Ms. Higgins’ pattern of secretly diarying all my purported sins further illuminates how the AGO acted in bad faith and made my life unbearable. Instead of collaborating on our work and fostering needed dialogue, my closest colleague and supposed coach acted like a Stasi informant.
The Ogden Murphy Report also suggests that that after I had been on the job for over a month, Ms. Higgins was finally ready to take off the training wheels and let me go to stakeholder meetings without her personal supervision. In fact, I already had attended numerous meeting alone with clients, and was busy solving their legal problems. Likewise, the Report erroneously states that I prepared my discrimination complaint “[i]n response” to Ms. Beusch’s denial of my accommodation request. To the contrary, I prepared my complaint and resolved to submit it even before receiving a response to my accommodation request, but I wanted to give Ms. Higgins the opportunity to respond before doing so. Unlike the AGO and Ogden Murphy, I believe in due process. As I informed Mr. Pearce, the email with Ms. Beusch’s denial letter arrived during my March 1, 2016 meeting with Ms. Higgins, but I did not check my inbox until after she left my office.
You should be mortified by Mr. Pearce’s toadying embrace of the AGO’s exaggerated version of virtually every single event that occurred during my tenure. No doubt the secret inventories of my offenses compiled by Ms. Higgins and Mr. Shinn, like the belligerent letter to my therapist, are written in a similarly skewed tone. A competent independent investigator would have smelled a rat. But not Ogden Murphy.
At times, Ogden Murphy’s gilding of the AGO lily borders on ludicrous. For example, the Ogden Murphy Report describes Ms. Higgins and Ms. Sloan’s purportedly terrified reactions to the intense discussions Ms. Higgins and I had on January 13 and March 1, 2016. The walls of the AGO/Internal Audit/Public Records suite are indeed paper thin, and no doubt both women heard me speak loudly. But it is preposterous to assert that after such allegedly disturbing events each woman continued to work closely with me for the next few months and days without anyone from the AGO ever suggesting there was a problem with my conduct during either meeting, and without me noticing any change in our close collaboration. Moreover, both women outweigh me. Ms. Sloan in particular is a brave woman. During my first week on the job, Ms. Higgins, who is an incorrigible gossip, came in to my office, closed the door, and whispered (those thin walls!) that an episode of Nancy Grace was devoted to showing how the man Ms. Sloan has lived with for twenty years killed his missing first wife. They may have resented or disliked me, or in Ms. Sloan’s case may have been encouraged by the AGO to turn against me, but neither woman reasonably nor actually feared for her physical safety.
Rather than take my complaint seriously, the AGO commissioned a whitewash
Before taking away my keys and placing me on house arrest, Mr. Shinn had promised the AGO would take my sexual orientation discrimination complaint seriously. However, Mr. Pearce did bother to examine any of the documents or incidents regarding sexual orientation I described. He never interviewed any of the witnesses I identified, and did not address the well-documented history of the pedophilia libel as an example of implicit and explicit bias. See, e.g., Slate’s discussion of former Representative Michelle Bachman’s homophobic rhetoric. Instead, the Ogden Murphy Report is prima facie evidence of retaliation – combining relentless personal attacks with a whitewash of the AGO’s conduct, all without addressing my actual complaint. Exactly what Mr. Pearce charged the State for doing to Judge Petersen two years before.
Humpty Dumpty and the cruelty of hope
The AGO and Ogden Murphy collaborated on a gross miscarriage of justice. In the last year I have lost my health, my career, my house, my credit, my savings, and my reputation. Fortunately, my kids are thriving in Bellingham. And I am finally becoming productive, despite continuing to endure painful and embarrassing trichotillomania and other symptoms every day. The dream job and happy retirement are gone forever. My purely economic injuries alone are substantial – the only position I’ve been invited to interview for pays about half what I would be making as Western’s general counsel.
Perhaps the most stressful part of my experience last year was how fiercely I clung to the delusional hope that working together we could clear up our various unfortunate miscommunications and get back to working for Western – long after common sense, my friends and family, and every lawyer I know told me it was time to let it go. Putting the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together is a daunting task, and I have counselled my own clients involved in business or household dissolutions that such attempts are generally unhealthy and futile. On the other hand, I am an incorrigible idealist. Sometimes a Humpty Dumpty attempt is the least bad of the various unsavory options available, and may achieve the best possible result for all involved.
At the end of our multiple sessions together, the psychiatrist who evaluated me last year told me “I know my job is to do an evaluation, but I am also a clinician, and I really think this is a situation where a professionally facilitated dialogue would be the best way to deal with your symptoms.” That should have been self-evident to all involved, even if I had not repeatedly requested just such an opportunity. Even at this embarrassing late date, I would rather tell a story of redemption and reconciliation instead of a tragicomic tale of blundering and bigotry.
Nevertheless, I am not demanding you make any sort of amends at this point. Nor am I seeking employment with the AGO. That would violate my settlement agreement with the State. Any change of heart or acknowledgment of wrongdoing has to come from you.
So why won’t I just shut up and go away?
Let me propose a thought experiment. Assume for the sake of argument the people at all five links in the chain of command at the AGO between you and me erroneously embraced the canard that I left behind a distinguished 25-year legal career only to become a boor with a fake disability. Assume the AGO created a new office structure to relieve the pressure on Ms. Reyes without realizing it also handicapped the role of university general counsel, then reflexively defended these poor management choices while refusing to communicate with me or my disability attorney about ways to ameliorate their impact on my health. Assume Ms. Higgins was not prepared to juggle the complicated roles of colleague, new lateral supervisor, and part-time university counsel, and that she intentionally and unintentionally triggered obvious PTSD symptoms. Assume Ms. Reyes was well intentioned but passive, and failed to communicate vital information about my disability to her superiors. Assume Mr. Shinn is an over-extended middle manager with probably the hardest job at the AGO, and is intensely loyal to his longtime colleagues even when he lacks important information. Assume Ms. Beusch is an arrogant and impetuous decision maker with a fierce devotion to the AGO. Assume Mr. Pearce, like the AGO, informed me his assignment was limited to the sexual orientation issues, and falsely claimed his role was not to make credibility determinations but rather to gather and lay out the relevant evidence. Assume this fiasco could have been averted if anyone along the way had the decency to call for a timeout. Assume that I provided indisputably exceptional legal services to my clients even under extraordinarily trying circumstances, yet received no gratitude, empathy, or compassion. Assume the AGO’s conduct in Fall 2015 caused strange new anxiety symptoms rooted in trauma that had been buried for thirty years, and the AGO’s and Ogden Murphy’s subsequent conduct caused further physical injuries and distress that continues today. And assume that my family, career, finances, and health have been irreparably harmed as a result.
Then re-read the Ogden Murphy Report. You will see that I was sandbagged. You will remark on the lack of any references to the witnesses and documents I identified, and the omission of any analysis of implicit bias and homophobia. You will marvel at the Report’s credulous recitation of third-hand hearsay as gospel (Does Mr. Pearce really believe I suggested to a group of students and administrators that it’s okay for members of my generation to use “phrases like ‘retard’”? I’m a civil rights lawyer and an English major, with a special needs adopted daughter who endured horrible trauma while in foster care.). You will recognize that the documents and compilations Mr. Pearce chose to rely on are not reliable contemporaneous business records, but rather a self-serving and inept attempt to paper the file before firing an eminently qualified disabled gay single father. You will blush at the aggressively pro-AGO spin, and the jarring logical gaps. And you will know exactly where I am coming from. Even if you sincerely believe your representatives at the AGO and at your vendor Ogden Murphy are utterly without fault, which I doubt, you can understand why I am hell bent on telling my story, warts and all.
E pur si muove
Remember back when Facebook asked for your “motto”? I picked an Italian phrase that, while a favorite since college, has taken on even deeper meaning for me in the last year – e pur si muove. That’s what Galileo is reputed to have said when the Inquisition forced him to recant his contention that the earth moves around the sun. But after confessing the then-Catholic dogma that the earth rests motionless at the center of the universe, he supposedly muttered e pur si muove: “It still moves.”
I’m still gay and that’s great, regardless of what some bigoted old men in Salt Lake said to me thirty years ago, or what a bunch of ignorant government lawyers say to me now.
I’m still both an excellent lawyer and a disabled person, regardless of what some insensitive and incompetent State bureaucrats said to Ogden Murphy.
I’m still the victim of discrimination that injured my family in your name, regardless of what those serial whitewashers at Ogden Murphy said in their shameful taxpayer-funded Report.
And I’m still confident my friends – and the jury – will recognize the truth when they hear it.
The Ogden Murphy Report amplified a bunch of bureaucrats’ lies, and sent them back to reverberate in the echo chamber you preside over. Someday you may find the courage and decency to do something about this tragedy. Meanwhile I intend to continue telling my story.
Very truly yours,
/s/ Roger Leishman