LOS ANGELES: If Friday's first day of testimony in the federal trial of former Fleishman-Hillard employees Douglas Dowie and John Stodder is any indication, Starbucks may want to consider in-courtroom product placement.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you've had your caffeine injections," joked U.S. District Judge Gary Feess, welcoming jurors back from a 15-minute break. On the stand was government witness Randy Howard, former Los Angeles Department of Water and Power director of corporate communications, whose testimony and cross-examination lasted almost four hours.
An 18-year veteran of the LA DWP, Howard assumed the top communications position in Sept. 2002, reporting directly to utility GM David Wiggs. Though he held the lead communications role for only 10 months, Howard dutifully noted that attorneys should refer to the utility as the "LA DWP, because there's a number of DWPs in Southern California."
Upon taking the stand, Howard explained that it was he who was ultimately responsible for managing all media and PR aspects, tasks, and billing associated with the Fleishman account. While he did work with both Dowie and Stodder among other firm staffers, Howard's main contact, he said, was account executive Monique Moret. (She is also scheduled to appear in the coming weeks as a witness for the prosecution.)
After "a few months on the job," Howard said, he began to question some of the hours Fleishman employees charged for various tasks; the amount on the firm's billings "exceeded the budget" Howard recalled, and he "became suspect." Fleishman bills, he said, were totaling in the high $200,000s and low $300,000s, when they "should have been about $200,000 a month," based on contracted hourly rates.
When Howard raised the issue with Dowie, the Fleishman GM's "demeanor changed ... he [became] less communicative about strategic activity," Howard said. Howard added that when he brought the matter to the attention of GM David Wiggs, chief administrative officer Frank Salas, and later, the mayor's office, he was warned by colleagues that he was "pushing too hard."
"It came to a point where I declined to approve billing," Howard said, noting that he was particularly "concerned about dinner and lunch activities that were not appropriate." In some instances, he said, meetings included Dowie and DWP liaison deputy mayor Troy Edwards, but no representatives from the utility itself.
"Subsequent to that, I was reassigned," Howard said, to the role of executive assistant to the GM in power systems.
During cross-examinations by Dowie's ever-confident attorney Tom Holliday and Stodder's more self-deprecating counsel Jan Handzlik, Howard explained that some Fleishman employees actually worked in the DWP office as support to the utility's six-person in-house media and PR staff, while others – like Dowie –served higher-level advisory roles, consulting Wiggs and Edwards.
Although he did not specifically implicate the mayor's office, Howard did say that in early- to mid-2003, the LA DWP was not "getting the level of service we were paying for" from Fleishman, and that the firm "might be getting some work" from somewhere else, or putting other departments' priorities over those of the utility. As an example, Howard cited the need for a planned conservation effort to be sidelined when the mayor's office decided to focus DWP resources toward a shoes-over-the-power-lines awareness campaign.
He also told of an Asian business trip funded in part by the LA DWP, an internal audit conducted prior to his acceptance of the communications director role, and Fleishman's assistance in crafting a new branding campaign and tagline, "We work for LA."
"Do you know why an outside PR firm was brought in to come up with that tagline?" Holliday asked, apparently sincere.
The morning's first witness, St. Louis-based Fleishman IT department SVP Katherine Forrester, remained poised and collected throughout her 40 minutes on the stand. She authenticated e-mails that have been used in evidence, verifying they originated from the firm's offices in Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York, Washington, San Diego, and San Francisco.
The trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.