LOS ANGELES: A second allegedly illegitimately billed PR account and a borderline hostile witness added glimmers of excitement to Tuesday's Doug Dowie-John Stodder trial proceedings.
The day got off to an uneventful start, as former Fleishman-Hillard LA administrative assistant Candice Campbell returned to the stand for continued cross-examination regarding her role in preparing supposedly fraudulent LA Department of Water and Power bills. In a long, fur-lined sweater straight from "The Simple Life" collection (sans precious pooch accessory), Campbell carefully reiterated that throughout her tenure at Fleishman, she was just following the instructions of superiors.
After Campbell's testimony came that of government witness Jennifer Langan, a one-time SAE (and later, VP) in Fleishman's corporate division, personally recruited and groomed by Dowie to manage accounts including that of the purportedly over-billed Port of Los Angeles.
As the pixie-ish PR practitioner – now in corporate communications with Wells Fargo bank – was questioned by Assistant US Attorney Cheryl O'Connor Murphy, she recalled the process of reviewing billing worksheets for accuracy, manually lowering rates for some senior-level executives to adhere to contract arrangements Fleishman had made with the Port. When that process was complete, Langan said, she would give the sheets to Stodder to sign and submit to the firm's St. Louis headquarters for finalization.
Offering billing worksheets from September 2002 and early 2003 as evidence, Murphy questioned Langan regarding handwritten notations on each, apparently raising employee's billable hours and, ultimately, total time invoiced by up to several thousand dollars. Those notes, Murphy said, seemed to be initialed by Stodder.
Murphy then presented the court with an e-mail Langan had written to a colleague at the firm, noting that Stodder had "marked up" the January 2003 Port of LA invoice for almost $4,000.
"To his credit," the e-mail read, "he actually made up descriptions for activities. Maybe that makes him feel better, like that really did happen."
Later, however, under separate cross-examinations by both Stodder attorney Jan Handzlik and Dowie counsel Michael Fahrang, Langan acknowledged that – with the exception of her own hours – "I do not know if those write ups were illegitimate." Langan added that she never recalled Dowie addressing write-ups himself in any way.
The highlight of the day came with the arrival of witness for the prosecution Eric Moses, a former Fleishman public affairs division account executive who had previously served as assistant deputy to LA Mayor Richard Riordan – and was once a writer for the Los Angeles Daily News, where Dowie was managing editor in the late 1980s.
Shortly after the deceivingly boyish-looking Moses testified that his superiors on occasion encouraged him to bill the "value of his services" rather than the hours he worked – and he "might have, once," but "felt fairly uncomfortable about doing it" –the witness was declared "hostile" by US District Judge Gary Feess.
"You can lead this witness," Feess informed Prosecutor Murphy, allowing her additional leeway in questioning.
Moses continued to answer billing-related queries for another hour before the judge excused the jury for the afternoon, the witnesses' level of responsiveness akin to that of a tired kid who doesn't want to acknowledge that it's bedtime.
While both attorneys for the defense and Moses' representative "respectfully disagree[d]" with Feess' hostility assessment, the judge remained adamant in his stance.
"I have only one master in this case, and that's the truth," he said.
Both Dowie and Stodder appeared withdrawn yesterday, preferring whispered conversations with immediate family members and counsel than casual banter with the press. But as the weather improves and the trial draws nearer to its conclusion, perhaps the two will come out of their courtroom-instigated shells and display a bit of that PR-pro loquaciousness on which they've made their careers.
Testimony is scheduled to continue today, beginning with addition cross-examination of Moses.