Dean Martin Katz of the University of Denver Law School, of which PRSA VP-PR Stephanie Cegielski is a 2006 grad, has been asked to study the legal moves of the Society vs. the O’Dwyer Co.
The Society is enamored of legal approaches, concepts and threats. Members can be cut from its website on mere “suspicion” of misuse; its Assembly is told that state and federal laws “trump” the Society’s bylaws; legal spending totaled $582,608 from 2004-2012; Columbia law grad Joe DeRupo was associate PR director at the Society from 2007-2010; Current PR manager Roseanne Mottola previously worked for her father’s law firm.
Reporters in general increasingly run into legal blocks, barricades and even lawsuits. Stock legal advice is not to respond to a press call but “buy time” and consult with legal. PR and the law are being mixed to an unprecedented degree. Lawyers are often consulted on any media inquiry and quite often the advice is either don’t respond or stick to something already published on the company website.
The Society desperately needs a third party to rescue it from its quagmire of stonewalling, seclusion and spin that has driven away many leading PR figures and resulted in stagnant membership growth over the past 14 years (adding about 1,500 members over that time). Counselor Mike Paul and others have tried to do this but all such offers have been rebuffed by the Society.
Dean Katz could perform a rescue mission for former student Cegielski. A recent arrival to PR, she is far over her head as VP-PR of the Society, lacking sufficient knowledge of its history. She was thrust into this position by the sudden death on June 13, 2013 of VP-PR Arthur Yann, 48, who had a background of more than 25 years in PR. A search was made for another senior PR person but none could be found. How many PR people want to take a job where the last person died suddenly at a youthful age? The Society's high-handed policies with members as well as the press are well-known. PR people typically last a couple of years at the Society and leave. That record is well known in New York.
The Society had to go to the West Coast to recruit staff head Bill Murray in 2006. He quit suddenly on March 7 with only the barest of explanations, after being given the title of CEO. He wanted no severance pay. He just wanted out of there. A new post had been found for him at the National Coffee Assn.
Katz has a B.A. from Harvard (1987) and a law degree from Yale (1991). He has “lectured extensively” on anti-discrimination law, free speech and religion, defamation, and employment-related intellectual property law.
Society Continues on the Legal Road
The Society has just “sued” the O’Dwyer Co. for the third time. The “sued” is in quotes because two of the actions are not in court. But they have all the earmarks of legal actions. We did end up in court in one case at a cost of nearly $100,000. That was the $21.5 million lawsuit against us by TJFR Publishing in 1994, a suit in which the Society was heavily involved.
The most recent quasi legal action is Cegielski’s invoking the Sept. 1, 2011 charges against us as the reason we’re not eligible for Society membership.
The 23 pages of charges, signed by 2011 chair Rosanna Fiske and Murray, had 35 separate instances of alleged wrongdoing.
The document was immensely complicated and loaded with exhibits (including texts of e-mails we had sent to Society leaders, members and staff).
The Society sent it to us, believing that if we published it first the Society would therefore be “off the hook” legally. We did publish it first. But the Society then referenced it on its website on Oct. 26, 2011 making the charges available to its 21,000 members. So the Society is also a publisher of this text.
Lawsuits Must Be Answered
We had to respond to the 35 charges or Society members and everyone else would assume they are true.
In a lawsuit, if you don’t respond, you can be held in contempt of court and a “judgment” for the amount of money involved can be obtained that is legally enforceable. You may never get your “day in court.”
Yann had started a discussion of the Society’s charges against us Oct. 26, 2011 in the PRSAY section of the web under the headline, “Aren’t You Tired of It by Now, Too?”
There were 18 comments to the Yann letter, 16 of them blasting this writer and the O’Dwyer Co.; one saying we had some good points to make, and one from us saying the Society owes us and many other authors for selling copies of our works without our permission from 1978-1994. Twelve authors hired a law firm which told us costs would be astronomical not only to sue the Society but to defend against countersuits that would be lodged against each author. Prentice-Hall, Longman and other publishers refused to help their authors.
We were in the process of knocking down the 35 charges via the Society discussion group, as would have been allowed in a real court of law. But Yann announced on Nov. 1, 2011 that the discussion was “closed.” The Society’s “court” was open five days.
What Is Fair About Society’s Court? Nothing!
The 14th Amendment gives certain rights to a member of any group who is accused of anything. The rights are normally associated with criminal trials.
--The right to have the assistance of counsel;
--The right to know one's accuser and the evidence against one;
--The right to confront and cross-examine that person;
--The right to have decision based solely upon a record generated in open proceedings;
--The right to present argument and evidence on one's own behalf.
We are being denied those rights in the Society’s “court.” No elected head of the Society has talked to us on the phone or in person since 2005 chair Judith Phair took calls from us on Fridays between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. We were not worthy of being talked to during normal business hours.
This blog and other materials are being sent to Dean Katz with a plea that either he or someone from his department (or a law student) print out the materials, including the links, and study them.
Large numbers of documents are involved because claims have to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Each side must “stipulate” facts that both agree on.
Lawyers for the National Assn. of the Deaf have told us the Society is in violation of anti-discrimination articles in the Americans with Disabilities Act by blocking O’Dwyer reporters from covering its national conference while allowing other reporters to do so.
NAD lawyers have said that discrimination against any group members is forbidden by ADA.