Monday, September 29, 2008

Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman Wake

Blogger Emeritus Chad Hermann's long goodbye to the burghosphere was honored with the sort of full page treatment in Sunday's Post-Gazette once reserved for Kaufmann's Department Store ads for "The Time of the Roses" sale.

(A search of Google News Archives helped me dig up this ad, along with a quirkily prophetic 1964 PG article -- "Perhaps Machines Will Read Things Like This" . Clicking the images will enlarge them for you. What a wonderful twist that, after 44 years, the article was in fact read by a "machine" and placed in Google's digital library. But I digress.)

Mr. Hermann, a respected writer and former educator, recently gave up writing his "Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman" blog. In the Post-Gazette, he says:

I grew weary of the game and the genre and everything that went with them. Even as I remained confident that TWM still kept those early promises, I feared that its company with the kind of shrill, toxic, intolerant crusading that these days so often passes for blogging would diminish it by association. If certainly not by comparison.

...and ...

I wanted TWM to be a window. And I hoped the blogosphere would be a gleaming, gaping city of them. Turns out it's just a long, dark hall of mirrors, stretching out to infinity.

In its final months, Hermann's "Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman" blog became increasingly consumed by his distain for presidential candidate Barack Obama. Here's a link to a Google search of his blog that provides some examples.

Judge Rufus Peckam writes about his Carbolic Smoke Ball colleague in a post at the Pittsburgh Men's Blogging Society.

Commenters at The Burgh Report are joining in the virtual wake, as is Ed Heath at Cognitive Dissonance in Pittsburgh and Beyond.

Heath writes:
Hermann’s piece on today’s PG’s “Next Page” was absolutely vintage Hermann. He titled it “The Out Post”. I suspect he might have titled it the “Last Post”, but apparently part of the reason he stopped blogging is because he seemed genuinely stung when his flippant criticism of Randy Pausch was so negatively received (he said he received three death threats).

Actually, Hermann describes getting "death wishes", not threats, in three readers' mean-spirited responses to his take on the Randy Pausch phenomenon:

That's right. Death wishes. A trio of anonymous comment-thread posters on other blogs -- they couldn't muster courage of conviction enough to e-mail me directly -- took exception to my suggestion that Randy Pausch had been overcovered, that the merits of his lecture had been overstated, and that most people now loudly proclaiming to be inspired by him will, 10 years hence, struggle to remember his name. For these sins, which seem to me no more than the untimely utterance of the obvious, I was wished dead or dying. (Sample: "Perhaps I'm blinded by my ... hatred of Chad Hermann, but that ... is exactly how I picture him when I imagine him dying of stomach cancer.")

This was one of the signs that it was time for me to quit.

Did Hermann's choice not to open his blog to comments contribute to the downward spiral of his relationship with his critical readers? Perhaps if he had published selections from the better of the "impassioned, respectful e-mail exchanges" he also described, it would have cleared the air and inspired a civil discourse. Then again, maybe it would have hastened a descent into blog hell.

That brings to mind a related topic.

The reader comments on The Burgh Report blog have developed into a active forum in recent months. (This link will show you an overview of all comments there, if you have an RSS Reader.) Sometimes the comments there can make for interesting exchanges. At other times, I wonder if the blog has been targeted by election season activists hoping to hijack the site.

By my recent count, the rambling reader called "Monk" was responsible for no less than 71 out of a sampling of 263 comments at The Burgh Report. Sometimes they stack up several at a time. It makes me long for a blogger version of an old radio talk show rule for callers -- "one call per show per week."

I moderate comments here, but don't have the time to keep up the pace that allows for immediate reader interaction. That -- and my ground rules -- mean that comments on my blog are few and far between.

When Kate Phillips of The New York Times spoke at the SPJ Regional here in Pittsburgh this year, she mentioned the challenges of keeping up with moderating reader comments for The Caucus, the NYT's political blog. The busier the blog, the more daunting the task, it seems.

I hope Hermann does come back with a fresh start -- and that he and his readers get to engage in a healthier discussion.

As for his current dark view of the blogosphere, I've always compared the quality of blogs to typing -- it all depends on who is at the keyboard. They are what we choose to make them.



Thursday, September 18, 2008

Q&A -- Mayor Denies 'Hush Money' In Ford Payment

[Update: a link to video of my Channel 4 Action News report]

Here's a transcript of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Q&A with reporters about the payment to former URA Executive Director Pat Ford. The impromptu new conference came during a break in the mayor's tour of Bloomfield's business district. During the session, the mayor proclaimed that this is the last time he will answer any questions about whether his administration is under investigation. The transcript shows that -- while a reporter began to refer to Councilman Shields' request for an inquiry by the state Attorney General into Ford's statements -- during this Q&A, no reporter actually asked the mayor whether he is under investigation.

Q (Jeremy Boren): Did your administration reach out to Pat Ford to find out the specifics of what he was alleging in his resignation letter and if not, why not?

A: The answer is no, and didn't really feel the need to.

Q (Boren): Why not? What if he had some legitimate concerns that needed to be addressed?

A: He had every ability to bring those forward and certainly still does.

Q (Boren): But you didn't think it was important to seek them out?

A: I know what happened and I know the issues that have been raised and I'm confident that nothing was done wrong.

You know, again, I said it before and I'll say it again. At no point in time when he was an employee of the City of Pittsburgh or the URA did he mention any wrongdoing or suggest that there was something done wrong. Of course, now that has changed, and I think there's reason that that changed, based on, you know, his employment status, et cetera. So, you know, I said in the press conference, I think they're bogus claims and they're false, and I still believe that.

Q (Bob Mayo): So, do you say that you do know what he was referring to when he made allegations of deception and corruption?

A: There is none.

Q (Mayo): But you know what he was referring to specifically?

A: No.

Q (Andy Gastmeyer): But can you see why the public is skeptical, mayor? I mean, he basically slaps this administration and you in particular, of course, in the face. And then a week or two after this, you go ahead and agree to a deal that not only pays him through the end of the year, but through June of next year.

A: You know, again, the settlement was reached. The URA board was in agreement that it was in our best interest to protect the taxpayers by reaching this settlement so that we avoided protracted and long litigation. It was a relatively small amount of money in comparison to what the legal costs potentially could have been.

And in addition, It allowed us to put this employment issue behind us. Allow (ed) us to move forward at the URA and do what the URA is -- do what the URA's mission calls for, and that's to rebuild this city. To focus on neighborhood issues, quality of life issues, and so it will allow us to do that.

I'm not going to sit here and suggest that it's something that I liked. I'm not going to sit here and suggest that it was necessarily good news. But it was a decision that had to be made. And it was made considering all of the factors and considering what had to be considered to reach the settlement.

Q (Gastmeyer): The attorney general's office is -- may possibly look into this --

A: (Interrupting) Let me answer this question and let me be clear. And I'll answer it today and I'm not going to answer it going forward, because I don't think that it's fair. My political adversaries continue to throw mud against the wall. Continue to suggest that there are investigations happening. Continue to write letters, continue to play politics. And you all continue to carry their water by asking me that question each and every time.

I'll answer it today and I'll conclude by answering it today. The answer is no. I haven't been questioned. Nobody has been questioned. And I think it's unfair and unrealistic for you all to continue to ask that question over and over and over again, without any facts, without anything other than a suggestion by my political adversaries.

So, until you all have facts and can hold my opponents responsible and accountable, so they can throw things against the wall and then you all come out here and carry their water and you ask me the question, and the answer to the question is no. It's been no for three weeks, it's no today. It'll be no tomorrow, and I'm not going to answer it any further.

Q (Mayo): Setting aside the question of an investigation. Editorials (are) criticizing or questioning whether or not this is, in effect, 'hush money'. You had him saying publicly embarrassing things. He winds up getting paid six months more than his contract would have. Did this contract buy Pat Ford's public silence?

A: It did not. I said before, I don't like it, I didn't like it. But it was a decision that had to be made. It was a decision that was made to protect the taxpayers in terms of our financial obligations on the issue. And it was also an issue that had to be considered in terms of moving the URA forward. I didn't believe, nor did the members of the URA board, that any long, protracted legal battle was in anybody's best interest.

We can stand here and debate on what that means, what that would cost. I can tell you it would be significantly higher than what was ultimately reached. Our obligation was to pay him through the remainder of the year. Regardless, there was no way we could have gotten around that. And so it's essentially, despite what's been reported, a six months settlement. And i think when you compare that to what the ultimate cost could have been and the overall benefit to (avoiding) a long legal battle, I think the decision was made and the right decision was made, as bad as it may be. I don't like settlements. I don't like this settlement. But it was something you had to do.

Q (Mayo): But he resigned, effective the end of the year. That was your only obligation to him What did he have going that warranted an extra six months? He resigned, (Why not) let him walk away?

A: He relinquished any ability for him to file any future claims against the URA, which I think is a very important point and why the settlement was reached. It wasn't so that he couldn't talk. I mean, certainly, he wrote a letter that was very damaging. Said a lot of things in that letter. If it was our interest to hush him, I think we would have hushed him before he wrote that letter. That's not what this was about.

Q (Mayo): But he has a non-disparagement clause now?

A: Right, exactly, so he doesn't damage the URA. That happens all the time, Bob You know that. It's happened before in the City of Pittsburgh. It's happened at the school district. It happens over and over again. There are cases in which the city has chosen not to settle. They could have settled then for a reasonably small amount of money, but they fought. And guess what that costs at the end of the --

Q (Mayo): (Interrupting) How would it--?

A: Can I answer the question, or --?

Q (Mayo): I'm sorry, I thought we were straying from the focus of the question, but please complete.

A: I don't remember what I was going to say.

Q (Boren): Is there a reason you didn't address the settlement on Thursday or Friday personally -- answer questions about it?

A: (Shakes his head) I wasn't around. No.

Q (Boren): Where were you?

A: Not available to the media.

Q (Mayo): Again, the point that I was trying to clarify is: if a guy resigns, and his contract us up, what possible basis would he have to sue? If that's all he had, he was quitting, what's he going to sue over?

A: There are potential -- it's employment law. I'm not an attorney, I can just tell you what we were advised to do, based on the recommendations of our attorneys. I'm not going to sit here today and say whether or not we would win or we would lose, What I can tell you is, whether we won or we lost, a potential a long, drawn out battle -- number one, it would have cost us more. And number two, it would have further damaged the URA. It would have further stymied our ability to do development, and make things happen in our neighborhoods. And so no matter which way you look at the issue, it's a difficult issue. It's one that had to be dealt with. It's one that no matter which way you dealt with , it wasn't pleasant. I'll recognize that. I have before.

You know, the important thing now is, I think we have a new executive director. He's a qualified and capable individual that's doing a good job. Has done a good job in his acting capacity. And it's my hope that the authority now can move on and move forward and put this issue behind us.



Sunday, September 14, 2008

Q&A: Ford's Lawyer Continues to Imply Inquiry by Authorities

Ford, Buchanan, Corbett, Fisher

Pat Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher, has had nothing good to say about Council President Doug Shields.

That was apparent in these earlier comments, as well as in his latest, in which he dismisses as political grandstanding Shields' call for federal and state authorities to investigate claims of corruption by Fisher's own client, Ford.

Noteworthy, however, are Fisher's ongoing remarks implying that authorities are already investigating something related to city government -- and that Ford is continuing to cooperate with those authorities. Fisher also continues to offer reporters his own spontaneous observations about the secrecy surrounding grand juries, thus keeping the topic of investigations in the spotlight.

After disparaging Shields for calling on U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan and PA Attorney General Tom Corbett to conduct inquiries into Ford's allegations of corruption, Fisher uncorked this provocative comment:

"He's asking for something that likely is already ongoing".

Before Shields' letter on Friday eclipsed Thursday's news, I was preparing a Q&A post from Thursday's interview with Fisher. Here's an excerpt from that Q&A. I've used a larger text style for emphasis in certain passages.

Q (Bob Mayo): A week or so ago, we reported the fact that Pat Ford has made these assertions about the city and the Ravenstahl administration, and I remember you said specifically "he has the wherewithal to prove them". Now we have this settlement. Is this settlement to hush Pat Ford and make him go away?

A: I really couldn't say. And I'm not going to speculate about why the URA agreed to the settlement in question. But let me say this to you, Bob, and I think this is very important. Nothing about this settlement inhibits my client from continuing to actively cooperate with authorities on matters of mutual interest, nor could any such settlement so inhibit him.

So, you have an agreement whereby Mr. Ford will no longer reiterate the allegations in his letter of resignation, unless and until he is compelled to do so by a subpoena.

Q (Mayo): He, in other words, won't be talking to reporters about it. But you're saying if there is any authority interested in it, he would not be kept from talking to authorities?

A: No one can, by way of an agreement in the settlement of a contract dispute, bind someone from participating with and assisting authorities in matters of the public interest.

Q (Mayo): So, to clarify, in past conversations you were careful to keep things in the past tense -- (saying) that he had "cooperated" with authorities on matters of mutual interest. Is he currently "cooperating" -- currently, since your 'past tense' past comment? Or is there any indication that authorities will be making use of Pat Ford's knowledge in the future?

A: Mr. Ford continues to actively cooperate with authorities on matters of mutual interest.

Q (Rich Lord, PG) : ...In Pat Ford's resignation letter, he asked for payment through the end of this year. He's receiving payment now through the end of June of 2009. Can you say anything about any subsequent claims that you made that may have motivated the city to move the yardsticks or move the goal line on this?

A: Let me say that Mr. Ford is grateful for this generous severance package from the URA and he is pleased to put the matter behind him and move forward with his life. Beyond that, the non-disclosure provisions of the agreement prevent me from discussing in detail claims which were raised and which have been obviously treated with respect, in terms of this agreement.

Q (Lord) : What is Mr. Ford doing now?

A: He's moving on with his life. He is going into a private consulting business and, as I said, he will continue, however to actively cooperate with authorities on matters of the public interest.

Q (Lord) : Do you think he will continue to live in Pittsburgh?

A: I know for a fact that he will not. Mr. Ford has relocated out of state.

Q (Lord) : Are you able to say whether he's gone back to Florida, or to any of the other locales..?

A: He has not gone back to Florida. He has moved out of state.

Q (Mayo): Has he lined up a new job?

A: He will be engaged in a private consulting business.

Q (Mayo): You won't say what city or state he is in?

A: As much as I'd love to use this moment for free advertising on behalf of Mr. Ford, I don't think that's my role, nor do I believe that's proper for me to do that...



Friday, September 12, 2008

Shields Calls For Inquiry, Mayor Fires Back

Council President Doug Shields

This post is based on my Channel 4 Action News report
(See VIDEO link here)

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields says the allegations of corruption in city government made by former URA Executive Director Pat Ford deserve the attention of both federal and state authorities.

Shields questions why Mayor Ravenstahl approved payments to Ford through next June, under a deal that silences Ford from disparaging the city any more.

Shields: "Since April to the time when this payoff -- this hush money -- is paid is going to be $150,000 to one individual for doing nothing, except not talking. And that's what they're buying there."

The Council President says "where there's smoke, there's fire". He's fired off letters to the U.S. Attorney and State Attorney General, calling for inquiries under oath into Ford's charges in his resignation letter.
Ford claimed he's the scapegoat for "inappropriate activities" of others and that there's a "culture of deception and corruption" in the Ravenstahl administration.

Shields: "What deceptions? what corruptions? And I don't think we have to look very far to find out what those are."

Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher, accuses Shields of political grandstanding, but also suggests there may already be an inquiry under way.

Fisher: "He's asking for something that likely is already ongoing."

State Attorney General Tom Corbett's office says it will determine if it has jurisdiction. If it does not, it says it will refer Shields' request to the appropriate law enforcement office.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan also acknowledges receiving Shields' request, but is declining all comment.

Mayor Ravenstahl responded in a news release, saying:

"Shields' actions are cheap, ill-motivated and just plain wrong".

The mayor accuses Shields of :

"a political agenda focused on hurting me and aggrandizing himself."

Mayor Ravenstahl's office said he will not appear on camera to answer questions about Shields' request to authorities.



Mayor Ravenstahl On Shields' Actions: "Cheap, Ill-Motivated & Just Plain Wrong"

ere's the Mayor's response to Council President Doug Shields' call for federal and state inquiries into Pat Ford's allegations of corruption in the Ravenstahl administration.



(PITTSBURGH) September 12, 2008

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today issued the following statement in response to Council President Shields’ letters to the U.S. Attorney and the state Attorney General.

“Doug Shields has forgotten that he was sent to Council to do the people's business, not to promote a political agenda focused on hurting me and aggrandizing himself. As he has communicated to others in the back offices of City Council, he is using his public office in an attempt to hurt people politically, personally and professionally. While my administration and I have been getting the work of the City done, cleaning our neighborhoods, fixing our finances, fighting crime, and resolving potential lawsuits to protect City taxpayers, he has been playing political games. Shame on him. Over the last two years, through an underwhelming run for citywide office, Shields’ use of public funds to advance his political agenda, and his erratic and unprofessional behavior on Council, he and his cohorts have embarrassed themselves, their public offices and this City. Shields' actions are cheap, ill-motivated and just plain wrong. I have full faith that the people of Pittsburgh see right through Shields, to the truth. It is time for Shields and company to stop playing politics and get back to the business of the City.

Date: September 12, 2008
Contact: Joanna Doven



Shields: "The Time Has Come ... Get To The Truth"

Here's the text of Council President Doug Shields' letter to U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan. His letter to PA Attorney General Tom Corbett contains an identical message.

September 12, 2008

Ms. Mary Beth Buchanan, Esq.
United States Attorney
7th and Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Dear Ms. Buchanan,

Pursuant to the August 27, 2008 resignation letter of former URA Executive Director Pat Ford and the subsequent decision of the URA board and the City of Pittsburgh to pay both Mr. Ford and his wife a settlement beyond the terms of their contracts, I ask that the Office of the United States Attorney look into to the significant allegations raised by Mr. Ford. City Controller Michael Lamb called the settlement “paying people to shut up about what’s going on in these organizations.”

The public release of Ford’s letter took the discussion of pay to play and no bid gift contracts to contributors out of the realm of rumor and into the arena of public discourse. Yesterday’s URA settlement exceeded the obligations of Ford’s contract, awarded more than six months of additional payment beyond what his letter of resignation requested, authorized an additional payout to his wife who was a city employee, and included a "non-disparagement" clause restricting further disclosure of any information regarding charges of “culture of deception and corruption.”

With serious allegations of illegal activity acknowledged in writing and nearly $100,000 taxpayer dollars being used in conjunction with what is effectively a gag order on the people raising the allegations, the time has come to put rumor and innuendo to rest and get to the truth. It has become imperative that a fulsome inquiry be conducted because it is only under oath that this matter can be definitively resolved.

I look to your office as the appropriate place to determine the truth. There is an immediate need for resolution because neither the city nor its taxpayers should be burdened with this uncertainty. The people of Pittsburgh deserve answers and I am hopeful that you will expeditiously pursue an avenue of official inquiry.


Douglas A. Shields
City Council President



Coming Up...

Coming up this evening:

The Shields Letters,

• Mayor Ravenstahl's Response,

• Ford's Attorney Lawrence Fisher on Inquiries



Shields Calls For Federal, State Inquiries Into Ford Allegations About Ravenstahl Admonistration

Council President Doug Shields has sent the requests in writing to US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan and PA Attorney General Tom Corbett.

Details to follow.


Sent from Gmail for mobile |


Thursday, September 11, 2008

City, URA Payout to Settle with Ford, Sirk

VIDEO of my Channel 4 Action News report is at this link.

Pat Ford has been on leave with pay from his job as URA Executive Director since April. His deal approved the the URA board continues to pay him not only through the end of his contract at the end of this year, but for an additional six months through the end of June. There's a provision he won't 'disparage' anyone as a condition of getting this money. His lawyer, Lawrence Fisher, says that doesn't mean he can't cooperate with authorities if he's subpoenaed.

After his own state ethics review, Ford made allegations of corruption in Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration and claimed he was being made a scapegoat for others.

Ford's attorney, Lawrence Fisher, says Ford will no longer will repeat the allegations, "unless and until" he is compelled to do so by a subpoena.

Fisher says "nothing about this settlement inhibits my client from continuing to actively cooperate with authorities on matters of mutual interest, nor could any such settlement so inhibit him."

The bottom line: by the end of next June, the URA will have paid Pat Ford an amount that equals 15 months' pay without his working -- more than 146-thousand dollars -- because the city believes that's cheaper than any lawsuit.

URA board member Jim Ferlo says the URA will "not to spend precious and very limited public dollars on baseless lawsuits and misdirected energies".

Urban Redevelopment Authority Solicitor Don Kortlandt says the agency will avoid "the costs that might be occasioned by prolonged discussion, litigation back and forth between the URA and Patrick Ford."

Ford's wife Alecia Sirk --the mayor's ex-press secretary --- gets $2,500 in a separate settlement from the city for what her lawyer says was a forced resignation.

City Solicitor George Specter says the city is paying "frankly, in order to resolve the whole thing and get it done quickly and really put an end to the whole matter involving both of them."

Fisher, who is also Sirk's attorney says that "all she was seeking from the city was a letter of recommendation".

Mayor Ravenstahl released a statement saying that a settlement of potential claims by Ford and Sirk -- rather than protracted, costly litigation -- is "the most cost effective and prudent way to protect city taxpayers".



Also $2,500 For Mayor's Ex Press Secretary

There is also a settlement for Ford's wife, the mayor's former press secretary, Alecia Sirk.

City Solicitor George Specter will speak about that topic with reporters.




(PITTSBURGH) September 11, 2008

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today issued the following statement concerning the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Board's actions as they pertain to the settlement with Pat Ford and the appointment of Rob Stephany as URA executive director.

"I support the actions taken by the board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority at today's meeting. A settlement of potential claims in this instance, rather than protracted and costly litigation, is the most cost effective and prudent course of action to protect City taxpayers.

I look forward to Rob Stephany's continued leadership at the Urban Redevelopment Authority in the permanent role of executive director. Rob's vision, development experience, integrity, attention to our neighborhoods and his history of community transformation will serve the URA and Pittsburgh for years to come."


Sent from Gmail for mobile |


Pat Ford Deal

The URA settlement will pay him through end of June 2009.
There is a no-"disparagement" provision.

(This post was filed via Gmail on my BlackBerry.)


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Drudge Sucker Punches Oprah

Is The Drudge Report's claim that Oprah Winfey "banned" Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin from her show a planted fabrication, intended to divert attention from the McCain campaign's refusal to allow Palin do any interviews with anyone? [See Time Magazine's website.]

Launched with breathless unattributed Drudge quotes -- "One executive close to Winfrey is warning any Palin ban could ignite a dramatic backlash!" -- , the original Drudge story's tracks are quickly being covered over. The main link for it on The Drudge Report now takes you to other news outlets' coverage, but look closely. The stories to which Drudge links are quoting... Drudge.

Meanwhile, Winfrey's actual response is spun elsewhere to give the story new legs. Coverage like this from the Los Angeles Times website make it sound as though there's an Oprah ban targeting Palin instead of an across-the-board decision not to have any of the candidates appear during the election cycle.

Oprah Winfrey: "The item in today's Drudge Report is categorically untrue. There has been absolutely no discussion about having Sarah Palin on my show. At the beginning of this Presidential campaign when I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates. I agree that Sarah Palin would be a fantastic interview, and I would love to have her on after the campaign is over."

Let's fact check. Has Senator Obama been on Oprah since he declared his candidacy ? Has Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Joe Biden been on her show ? The answer to both questions is "no"; those facts lend credibility to Winfrey's response. Obama appeared on her program in January 2005 and again in October of 2006. He declared his candidacy in Febuary of 2007.

As a reporter, would I like to see Governor Palin on Oprah? Absolutely. I was once a 14 year old kid who spent the waning days of summer vacation before starting high school watching the 1968 political conventions on TV. In my first summer of cable TV, I enjoyed watching C-SPAN's live coverage of the congressional debate over the impact on farmers of Daylight Saving Time. Media criticism? I love it, but I have little patience for disingenuous "blame the media" games.


McCain Campaign Tells Fox News Palin Won't Do Interviews Until It Knows She'll Be Treated With "Deference"


Palin To Sit Down With ABC News' Charlie Gibson



Appeals Court: You Can Retry Wecht...That Doesn't Say You Should

U.S. Attorney Buchanan, Dr. Wecht, & Judge Schwab

UPDATE: Video of my Channel 4 Action News report with comments from Pitt Law Professor John Burkoff.

ere's are some key passages from the appeals court ruling, written by Judge Mike Fisher.

Our holding today that there is no constitutional bar to retrying Dr. Wecht does not stand for the proposition that he must be retried. That is a decision that rests with the Government. Indeed, Wecht’s prosecution is one that already has spanned more than thirty months. It has resulted in numerous appeals and emergency motions to this Court and, with the filing of this opinion, three lengthy precedential opinions.

If the Government chooses to proceed with a retrial, our view is that both sides and the interest of justice would benefit from a reduced level of rancor in the courtroom, fresh eyes on the case, and fewer forays to this Court by the parties, including intervening parties. This has been a highly charged, lengthy, and complex case involving serious criminal charges brought against a prominent public figure. The trial judge has been the referee in a heavyweight fight, and, as we have ruled, has generally made the correct calls, with some exceptions...

...And in today’s decision, even though there was manifest necessity to declare a mistrial in satisfaction of the Fifth Amendment, the District Court reached that conclusion through a highly flawed set of procedures...

...Therefore, in the exercise of our supervisory powers... we will direct that Judge Schwab be relieved of further duties on this case and that the Chief Judge of the District Court assign a new judge to handle any future matters in the case including any retrial.

[Note: in the following passages, the opinion weaves in quotes from other courts' rulings.]

Although we tread cautiously because “[t]he decision to remove a judge from an ongoing trial should be considered seriously and made only rarely,” ... this case has progressed so unusually as to become sui generis [Note: unique or "of its own kind"]...

[The opinion then quotes heavily from other courts' case in which...]

... even absent allegations of bias, because of the highly unusual procedures the trial judge employed, “the appearance of justice requires reassignment on remand”... ..“that it is necessary to remand the case to a different district judge” because [the] court of appeals was “disturbed by the manner in which the district court treated this case on our initial remand"...

We thus end this chapter in the Wecht appellate saga by coming full circle. In Wecht I, the issue of whether Judge Schwab should be recused for bias figured prominently in the appeal. In that opinion our dissenting colleague concluded...“that another judge should preside over the trial of Wecht"...

As we have just described, the problem today is not so much the appearance of bias as it is the appearance of litigation at a combative tenor that likely will not abate were Judge Schwab to stay on the case. We therefore direct that a less invested adjudicator take over from here.

For the foregoing reasons, we will affirm the District Court’s order denying Wecht’s motion to dismiss the indictment. We nonetheless will exercise our supervisory power and remand this case to the Chief Judge of the District Court to reassign the case to a different judge.

Judge Michael Fisher adds in a closing footnote:

..Certainly Wecht should be pleased with our reassignment of the case. Not only did he move for Judge Schwab’s recusal at issue in Wecht I, he did so again.. in the form of a petition our Court, which we denied on January 2, 2008. Wecht then moved for recusal again...more recently on April 21, 2008. Judge Schwab denied the motion on May 8, 2008.



Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Curious Case of the Solicitor's Phone Calls

City Solicitor George Specter

It was an unusual footnote to Mayor Ravenstahl's news conference on Friday, which he held to respond to the attacks in Pat Ford's resignation letter. The evening before, City Solicitor George Specter made a series of phone calls to top media company executives around town, expressing concern about potential news coverage of rumors about the Ravenstahl administration.

My source confirming Thursday's unprecedented series of afternoon and early evening calls is Solicitor Specter himself.

Many of the calls went not to news division executives, but to top executives outside and above the news divisions, Specter confirmed.

Friday, when I returned Specter's call to WTAE, I reached him on a golf course; he was vacationing out of town. I asked him if he had anything to add to Mayor Ravenstahl's remarks. He responded that he hadn't known about the mayor's news conference and he declined to do a phone interview. Specter said he had made the calls Thursday because he was concerned that there were rumors the Ravenstahl administration was under investigation. The city solicitor had wanted to make it known that he was not aware of any investigation.

I first learned details of Specter's calls from a reporter for another local news organization after the news conference. In reviewing my transcript, it's apparent that Specter's calls actually inspired the first two questions of the news conference, which came from yet another reporter:

Q: Mr. Mayor, your --the city's attorney called the newspaper yesterday and said you guys were aware of a rumor going around that [rumor redacted] but you didn't know anything about it. Can you address that; what is that about?

A: I would just say that there are a lot of rumors and things being said right now. and if I were members of the media, I'd be very careful in what I reported and make sure that they're factual and not simply rumors.

Q: But are [rumor redacted] ?

A: Nobody in my office nor myself has ever been contacted by any investigatory agency. So, no.
It appears one immediate effect of the solicitor's calls was to prompt heightened attention and blunt questions from reporters about the rumors the solicitor's calls spotlighted.

Many months ago, I questioned the mayor's office about a different unsubstantiated rumor concerning Ravenstahl. At that time, Acting Press Secretary Joanna Doven told me that City Solicitor Specter believed the previous rumor amounted to slander. I was puzzled at the time by the solicitor being invoked in that case in a role beyond his usual city governmental duties.