Tuesday, August 5, 2014

News & Views

PLEASE NOTE: This is obviously NOT the official site of Spokane Civic Theatre. That can be found at www.spokanecivictheatre.com. This site is here for the purposes of commentary and criticism. There is nothing for sale on this site, nor is the site itself for sale. If you would like to purchase tickets for Fiddler on the Roof, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Women, A Christmas Carol, The Servant of Two Masters, Orphans, Nunsensations!, Clue: The Musical, Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Sign of Four, Sylvia, The Music Man or any other event at Spokane Civic Theatre, please visit THIS LINK to Spokane Civic Theatre's ticketing page. 

If you're new to Civic Doody, you can catch up on things HERE.

I rushed through that last post and failed to give as complete a picture of the proceedings as I would have liked. So...I'm going to flesh out my impressions just a bit more, along with some miscellaneous updates and musings.

General Updates
First of all, on a positive note, Jim Humes is apparently out as managing director at Civic, judging from the job listing posted at www.spokanecivictheatre.com (not www.spokanecivictheatre.org, mind you). I have no idea what the circumstances of his departure were, but it's good to know that his particular brand of craven self-preservation is no longer a toxin in the building.

Secondly, I somehow let the one-year anniversary of Yvonne A.K. Johnson's termination pass without comment. Okay, so...it's been a year. 

Next.

The date is set. Yvonne A.K. Johnson's appeal of the anti-SLAPP ruling against her to the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division III, will be heard on September 10, 2014. That's not so far away, but the ruling could take months to come down. At this point, I think it would be optimistic to expect it much before January of 2015, which, as fate would have it, is also when Johnson's suit against Spokane Civic Theater is scheduled to go to trial.

Summary Judgment Denied
I guess in the end, my overall sense of what happened on Friday is that it probably went the way it should have, all things being equal. Summary judgment should not be granted lightly and, given the way I feel about at-will employment law, I would rather see judges allowing cases like this to go forward than not. Does that mean Yvonne A.K. Johnson's suit is worth a damn? Absolutely not. It just means that on the breach of contract claim, there are questions that probably deserve further discovery and discussion. I come down on that side of the debate because I don't believe for a second that my case against Spokane Civic Theatre should have been dismissed and it would be inconsistent of me to argue otherwise.

Well...that's not exactly true. I actually had emails and other documents specifically demanding a three-year commitment, whereas Yvonne A.K. Johnson had a meaningless text message (or email...I can't remember) from Larry Wooley saying something to the effect of "You'll work here for as long as you want." But also, Johnson wrote the employee manual which specifically states that verbal statements from anyone cannot alter the at-will nature of a Civic employee's status. And one can't help but laugh derisively at her expectations of "good faith and fair dealing," and reliance upon an "express contract," as the basis of her defense against the motion. Still, I don't want to be a hypocrite.

In trying to figure out who to side with here, I come up at a loss. Neither Spokane Civic Theatre nor Yvonne A.K. Johnson demonstrated good faith and fair dealing in their brief relationship with me (and countless others). For that reason, as much as I want to get on-board with all of the good ju-ju about the new era that has been ushered in with the start of Keith Dixon's tenure (and that would probably be the smart political move for me...but I've only ever really been interested in honesty on this blog), I guess it's hard for me not to feel like Johnson and Spokane Civic Theatre deserve each other in what is bound to be a sloppy, tumultuous and overlong court saga. The theater never did enough to reign Johnson in or hold her accountable for past actions. Now it's their turn to deal with her wrath.

Yada yada yada
This is the time of year (the anniversary of the time between my hiring and firing) that I feel with particular acuteness the sting of unresolved trauma and regret. There's a room in the basement of our house that I have been ignoring for most of the four years that have passed since then. It's the room that was serving as our holding area for boxes and things that were sort of half unpacked. Had things not gone so terribly wrong, we would have gradually finished and turned that room into something useful, clean and organized.

I finally attacked that room recently and was struck by how freighted with emotional baggage the task was. I hand't realized that my aversion to dealing with it was deeply connected to those events. With small exceptions, we'd left that room more or less untouched. I think maybe we didn't want to acknowledge that we couldn't just pack those boxes right back up and get the fuck out of this place as soon as possible. I know I never wanted to do anything that resembled settling in any further than we already had. I did not want this to be home. And truthfully, despite my growing affection for Spokane, I still don't. It is still the place that brutalized my family and never fixed it. I don't see how we could ever call a place like that "home." Still, cleaning that room felt like a positive step psychologically—one that I had not realized I needed to take until I took it.

One More Thing
An instructive analogue to this situation has always been difficult to find. There's one that has been suggested to me on several occasions, but I've always been wary of employing it because a casual reader might find it flippant. I'm going to assume that I have no casual readers at this point (who the hell would read this shit for fun?) and trust my audience to understand that I know this to be an inexact parallel.

The analogy was brought back to mind by the following exchange I heard between an NPR reporter and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:

CORNISH: Senator Gillibrand does this debate feel familiar to the debate over sexual assault in the military where you're trying to change a culture where the institution is built around taking care of things in-house.
GILLIBRAND: Well, the stories are the same. So for example, when I talked to Anna she says, not only was the crime itself brutal but she felt betrayed by the institution. And when you talk to a survivor from sexual assault or rape in the military it's the same thing. They'll say, I could survive the rape what I couldn't survive was the men and women in my unit or my commander turning their back on me. So it's not dissimilar when you hear the stories from survivors. (Emphasis added.)
The analogy to sexual assault is, as I've said, not exact, but it's not entirely off-base either. We were attacked in a very personal way, in this case by a stranger. The highlighted portion is precisely what rings most true for me. It is also why I am unable to let the institution off the hook. Also, because:
Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not take the full consequences and responsibilities of its actions, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than it otherwise would, leaving another party to hold some responsibility for the consequences of those actions. (Wikipedia)
Of course, a more apropos analogy would be the case of Richard R., the Pasadena high school teacher whose sexually explicit photos were hacked and sent to 200 students at his school. His colleagues and students rose to his defense, but they never had to demonstrate the endurance of their support because the institution did not abandon him. He was never in danger of losing his job, according to school district officials. Must be nice.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Johnson Scores a Rare Non-Loss in Court

I just sat through a motion hearing in the case of Yvonne A.K. Johnson vs. Spokane Civic Theatre, Larry Woolley, Bob Francis and Bob Mielbrecht. It was a motion to dismiss her breach of contract claim on summary judgment. The theater's position was basically "She signed documents year after year stating that she was an 'at-will' employee and did not have a contract. We had every right to fire her." Johnson's argument was "We had an understanding that I understood to be a contract, regardless of whatever pieces of paper I signed or didn't sign."

You may recognize both of these arguments. When I sued Civic, my case was dismissed on summary judgment on precisely the same basis that Civic sought to dismiss Johnson's. So it's kind of weird for me, obviously. I was sitting there silently rooting for Johnson to lose - and, based on the relative competence and coherence of the respective attorneys' arguments, expecting her to lose - but I also vaguely wanted vindication of the fact that my suit should have moved forward. Don't get me wrong...Johnson's claim is a pile of disingenuous bullshit, whereas mine was rooted in a sincere failure to understand the legal technicalities involved in employment law. She knows them very well.

So it was a frustrating morning. Not only did Johnson not lose the motion, but I left with the distinct impression that someone making $90,000 per year ultimately is granted greater consideration when they're wronged than someone who was making $30,000 per year. That's probably reading to much into it - different judges, different outcomes - but it was disheartening nonetheless.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

De-Scandalized

As you may or may not have noticed, I've been mercifully distracted by more important things in life than this nonsense as of late. Also, developments have slowed to a trickle, what with pending court proceedings backed up endlessly. At this point, the soonest Yvonne A.K. Johnson's appeal of the anti-SLAPP ruling could be heard is in September, but even that is not a sure thing. There's just three to five oral argument dates each month, so it's a matter of waiting to get on the docket. Her suit against Spokane Civic Theatre appears to have been continued into January of 2015. So, you know...there probably won't be any major developments for a while.

It's kind of nice to not be focused on it so much, but it also postpones indefinitely the point at which I'll be able to be fully disentangled from Yvonne A.K. Johnson for good. And so I still have days when I get a little sidetracked by the unresolved frustration of it all. Today, I found myself engaged in something of a thought experiment regarding the fundamental nature of how my termination played out from the beginning.

It's obviously really difficult to divorce thinking about all this from the salacious aspect of the story. It's damn near impossible, really. (I apologize if you're not "in the know." You'll have to do your own research because I don't feel like recapitulating it here.) It went like this: Event A (scandalous stuff) occurred, setting wheels in motion that led to Event B (my termination). Right? Well...not really. I mean, everyone who was close enough to Spokane Civic Theatre to really know the whole story knows that Event B was probably a foregone conclusion and that Event A merely provided a miraculously convenient (from her perspective) excuse. In other words, Yvonne A.K. Johnson probably would have fired me sooner or later because she's more-or-less incapable of working with anyone that isn't a cowering pool of sycophantic jelly. Which I am not. 

(I want to assure you here that I have exhaustively explored, at the behest of many, many people, the theory that Event A was somehow orchestrated by one or more individuals involved in Event B. I understand the desire to find order in the chaos and that's certainly how the John Grisham version would turn out, but I just have not found anything even remotely conclusive to keep that theory alive.)

So just step back for a moment and reimagine the whole thing as if Event A had never happened. Imagine that, after moving across the country to take what I thought was a three-year contract, Yvonne A.K. Johnson just called me into her office one day and said "You know, this isn't working out and since this is an at-will state I think we'll just go our separate ways. Have a nice day." (Now we all know she wouldn't have been that decent about it. She would have accused me of something terrible or questioned my mental state—both things she did to other people—but still, let's just pretend that's how it went down.) What would have been the reaction to that?

My first thought is that it would have been severely muted—that the scandal actually riled people up on its own terms. But when I really think about it, I see that the reimagined scenario would have been even more offensive. I mean, you can't just drag a family across the country for a "trial period" to see if you like someone or not...at least not under the guise of a three-year agreement. That's just not something you do. If that's your intent, you hire locally or you make it extremely clear that continued employment is very much an open question based on a highly unpredictable rubric consisting of one person's mercurial impulses.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think that is exactly what happened. This isn't a new thought exactly, but I've always kind of leaned on the scandal story because a) it's nearly impossible to escape its grasp and b) it seemed like the stronger argument. I don't mean to say that I made a cynical, PR decision to lean on it, but rather that of the arguments available to me as a result of Yvonne A.K. Johnson's and Spokane Civic Theatre's actions, that seemed the only plausible one to make. And it is probably the case that I did not have a choice in the matter. The scandal was not going to go away—especially not after the "protect the children" speeches. Still, I was riveted today by contemplation of the un-sensationalized version of the story and its implications. 

To be sure, the scandal will haunt me for the rest of my days. I was recently recommended for a pretty major job opportunity and made it through to a second interview. It's not a job I applied for or had any real qualifications for, but apparently I am (if I may be immodest for a moment) impressive enough to have been recommended and then considered seriously. That interview was cancelled the day before it was scheduled due to "a decision to hire from within." Now maybe that's really what happened. Or maybe my "Google Problem" is what happened. And that is the kind of uncertainty I'll live with for the rest of my life as a result of what Yvonne A.K. Johnson and Spokane Civic Theatre did to me.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves

Well, it looks like the hearing date for Yvonne A.K. Johnson's appeal of the anti-SLAPP ruling against her will not happen until September at the very earliest. The Court of Appeals, Division III, has posted the cases it will hear on its June docket—after which the court takes a summer recess—and we're not on it. In fact, we're quite a ways down the list of cases waiting to be heard, which means it could be even later than September. And there's no telling how long after the hearing a ruling will be issued. Hopefully not much longer than a month, but one never knows.

And so it goes. And goes. And goes. And goes...

Here's what's worse: In addition to having to continue to fight Yvonne A.K. Johnson's suit that Spokane Civic Theatre launched with initial funding, we continue to deal with very practical consequences. Just this week, I submitted an application for a really great civil service job for which I am extremely well qualified. The initial application included the question: "Have you ever been discharged (fired) or resigned (quit) in lieu of discharge?" Under oath of application, I had no choice but to reply that I had. I have no idea whether this will preclude me from getting the job, but it certainly won't help, will it? If Civic had taken the extraordinarily easy and reasonable step of expunging my termination record, I could have answered that question differently.

As much as I want to support my friends who have reclaimed their theatre and are about to open Gypsy...as much as I want to wish them broken legs and such...I think it should be clear why I cannot. Spokane Civic Theatre continues to hinder my ability to reclaim my own life. It's not that I harbor ill will necessarily. I don't at all. I'm glad for them. It's just that I can't really support them because doing so would be supporting an institution that continues to do harm to my family.

Now, in the interest of not ending on a dour note, I'd like to CHER something with you that is apropos of nothing but the title of this post:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Gone Fishin'

Subpoenas are a-flyin'! Yvonne A.K. Johnson has filed her witness list with the court in the case of Johnson v. Civic, beginning what appears to be a ridiculous fishing expedition in search of something, anything to hang her pathetic excuse for a lawsuit against Spokane Civic Theatre on. Unfortunately, that's going to be a great big pain in the butt for some people.

So let me back up. I actually was served with my subpoena way back in November. As you will see if you click that link, it basically wanted every document in my possession related to Spokane Civic Theatre dating back to before I had ever even heard of the place. Fortunately for me, because Yvonne A.K. Johnson appealed the SLAPP ruling, my representation is still being paid for by my insurance company. We objected on that grounds that their request was:
...overbroad, unduly burdensome, vague and ambiguous, seeking information that is neither relevant to the matter in controversy, nor likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence at trial, seeking information protected by the work-product doctrine and attorney-client privilege, and seeking to impose upon [me] obligations beyond those required by CR 45. Johnson's subpoena is an obvious attempt to conduct discovery in Johnson v. Ryan, Spokane County Superior Court Cause No. 13-2-01362-7, wherein Johnson's suit was dismissed pursuant to Washinton's anti-SLAPP statute, currently on appeal." 
Unsurprisingly, Johnson filed a Motion to Compel Compliance with the subpoena. A hearing date of January 31 was set. (It is worth noting that they did this while we were in the middle of writing our response brief for the Court of Appeals, which was due on February 3rd.) We filed our Opposition to Plaintiff Yvonne A.K. Johnson's Motion Motion to Compel, but we simultaneously said (I'm paraphrasing here) "Hey...you know what? We're happy to turn over materials that could conceivably be considered related to your suit." That boiled down to "(1) correspondence with the board, as it could, conceivably, document the board's knowledge, information, or actions; and (2) correspondence with others regarding knowledge of and information related to Johnson's termination, which could conceivably document the board's knowledge, information or actions in discussing the same." Knowing full well that they would get nothing more than that from the judge, they accepted our offer (retaining their right to refile at a later date) and the hearing was cancelled.

Now it's time for other parties to deal with this garbage. To date, I am aware that Patrick Treadway, Abbey Crawford, Chris Wooley, Wendy Klaue and Troy Nickerson have all received subpoenas requesting
...any and all correspondence, documents, diaries, letters, electronic communications, including, but not limited to, text messages; social media posting, messages, and chats; instant messages; and electronic mail correspondence, draft and final, personal and/or professional, within your personal control and possession; relating to (a) James Ryan; (b) Yvonne Johnson; (c) Spokane Civic Theatre; (d) Spokane Civic Theatre's Board of Directors; (e) Larry Wooley; (f) Robert Mielbrecht; (g) the website and/or Facebook for "civic doody;" (h) Joanne Keyes; and/or (h) the termination of the Spokane Civic Theatre's Executive Artistic Director from January 1, 2010 to the present. (emphasis added)
This is just bald-faced nonsense and they know it — or they would have taken their motion to compel evidence from me all the way to the judge. There is simply no justification for seeking this sort of information from parties that were mere bystanders, as I was, to the termination of Yvonne A.K. Johnson from Civic. This is nothing more than a nuisance that will needlessly waste the time and energy of people who have far better things to do, even if Ms. Johnson does not.

In other news...

  • It looks like the hearing on the Johnson v. Ryan appeal won't take place until June at the earliest. If I prevail on the appeal, there's always the possibility that Johnson will appeal to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. If Johnson wins, that takes us back to square one, back in the Superior Court. 
  • I have received confirmation that the Spokane Civic Board of Directors did, in fact, pay Johnson's original attorney some amount of money to launch her suit against me in the first place. I've heard the excuse that this was a deliberate ploy to ensure that her attorney could not then turn around and participate in a lawsuit against the theater. (Having paid her attorney directly would have created a conflict of interest.) I'm not sure how compelling I find that excuse, nor am I sure how much solace its truth would give me as I continue to defend myself against this nonsense.