Dowie trial resumes after unexpected day-off

LOS ANGELES: Participants in the ongoing Douglas Dowie-John Stodder trial had an unexpected day off Thursday, when an "unidentified party" affiliated with the proceedings asked to be excused at the last minute, according to Court Clerk Marilyn Morris.

LOS ANGELES: Participants in the ongoing Douglas Dowie-John Stodder trial had an unexpected day off Thursday, when an "unidentified party" affiliated with the proceedings asked to be excused at the last minute, according to Court Clerk Marilyn Morris.

The courtroom drama resumed Friday, however, and the patience of both jurors and prosecutors was rewarded--at least temporarily--with colorful testimony from government witness Fred Muir, a former Fleishman-Hillard SVP, public affairs, who put into words a sentiment to which previous witnesses had only alluded.

 

It's no secret certain LA-area PR practitioners have theorized that Dowie's background as a Marine Corps sergeant who served in Vietnam made him an especially severe and hierarchy-oriented GM. But during questioning by Assistant US Attorney Adam Kamenstein, Muir--now market chair and managing director of the media practice at Burson-Marsteller, Los Angeles, told the court that regardless of the reason, Dowie was a "tough" boss who "could be very abusive" and "demeaning" to employees.

 

While that information may put Dowie atop more than a few former staffers' bete-noire lists, it alone is hardly grounds for incrimination. Still, there was the issue of Muir's resignation from Fleishman, which he first recounted in a 2005 discussion with the government; it was also mentioned by previous trial witnesses (and one-time Fleishman Public Affairs VPs) Monique Moret and Hilary Norton.

 

Upon resigning in October 2003, Muir purportedly told Dowie the "real"

reason he was leaving was due to his frustration with the firm's fraudulent billing practices regarding the LA Department of Water and Power, an account on which he worked regularly as part of his assignment roster. Muir also informed Dowie that he would be taking at least two clients--including the allegedly illegitimately billed Worldwide Church of God--with him, to be serviced by his own eponymous PR firm.

 

Earlier in the trial, both Moret and Norton recalled that Dowie had been enraged by this. But Muir--prior to joining Fleishman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and LA Times editor--warned Dowie that if the then-GM made his transition difficult, "he would tell people what [was] really going on" with the LA DWP account.

 

Muir also testified that Stodder, as SVP public affairs, spearheaded the supposed inflation of LA DWP invoices--and served as Muir's direct report. Stodder personally instructed Muir to boost PR account bills, the witness said, including that of renowned architect Frank Gehry's firm. To do that, Muir explained, he was obliged to add additional, non-worked hours to employees' timesheets, and even make up activities when all legitimate work had been accounted for. On one occasion, Muir said, he actually mistook fraudulently marked-up entries on a billing worksheet for a computer error generated in Fleishman's St. Louis-based headquarters, but was told by Stodder "not to worry" about it.

 

For those keeping count, Gehry's firm makes the fifth allegedly tampered-with account addressed in the trial so far--and there will be others. The prosecution has also drawn attention, again and again, to the LA DWP, the Port of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Worldwide Church of God; all accounts were handled by Fleishman's public affairs division between 2001 and 2003, though some experienced invoicing issues prior to Stodder's tenure with the firm.

 

The trial is now on a previously arranged two-day recess, as US District Judge Gary Feess handles jury selection related to another case. Proceedings are scheduled to resume on Wednesday morning.

 

 

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