LOS ANGELES: The federal trial of former Fleishman-Hillard Los Angeles GM Doug Dowie and SVP John Stodder began Friday with a subtle change of pace, as witness for the prosecution Monique Moret took the stand dressed in dark slacks and a hearth-grey jacket.
The one-time Fleishman VP of public affairs' decision to arrive in Donna Karen-esque coordinated separates rather than the all-black ensembles she had selected for her previous three days of testimony wasn't the only thing that had changed about Moret: Her attitude took a turn, as well. As Dowie attorney Michael Farhang continued attempts to dismantle her credibility, Moret's responses turned from polite but firm to more frustrated – at times even irritated – answers.
"Can you repeat that?" she distractedly asked at one point, taking her time to examine a multi-page piece of evidence. "I was flipping while you were talking."
And, in response to Fahrang's repeated claims that what Moret "testified to in trial was not consistent" with what she told the government in a previous interview, Moret did not appear shaken for even a moment.
"That's a good example for the jury," Moret replied, regarding an instance in which she "could have mistaken" a valid employee time addition as fraudulent. "And you may have others."
Later, however, Moret added that, even acknowledging these legitimate "write ups," "there was never enough time to get up to our projection."
It was not obvious whether Moret's change in stance was an attorney-suggested ploy to win panelists' sympathy, or purely based on the fact that she'd had her fill of cross-examination. But as Fahrang continued to go over "write up" examples – asking that Moret "indulge" him with just a few more – it was clear that US District Judge Gary Feess had had plenty.
"Mr. Fahrang," Feess sternly reminded, "The question is whether I will indulge you."
After a brief break, Fahrang spent some time querying Moret about the 2003 year-end employee evaluations she'd written for both herself and then-administrative assistant Candice Campbell, the latter allegedly her partner in crafting fraudulent invoices for the firm's lucrative Los Angeles Water and Power (DWP) account.
While Campbell's review was full of praise in regard to work on "streamlining and improving" the DWP invoicing process, Fahrang noted, there was no mention of her participation in any allegedly illegitimate billing scam.
Similarly, he added, Moret made no mention of her concerns regarding Fleishman's billing ethics on her own self-review, opting instead to point out her strengths and desire to "develop a schedule where I'm working at home more."
That, Fahrang asked, is the advice Moret had for her supervisors at Fleishman: To allow her to work remotely?
"I think that's a dream for anybody with children, yes," Moret said.
After more than 15 hours of questioning, Moret was finally free to step down from the stand, only to be replaced by Candice Campbell herself, also testifying on behalf of the government. Casually dressed in khaki corduroys and a black sweater set, Campbell quietly answered questions posed by Assistant US Attorney Cheryl O'Connor Murphy.
Campbell, a full-time Fleishman employee since 1995, said she began working on the DWP account in 2002, creating PowerPoint presentations and learning the in-and-outs of its intricate billing system. When Moret joined the firm in the summer of that year, Campbell said, the administrative assistant trained her on the billing system, then worked with her to keep it in order.
Campbell said she did notice differences in the DWP bills shortly after Moret took over as manager of the account; specifically, she recalled, there were more write ups "pumping up [employee] hours." At times, she said, the marked-up bills could be difficult and time-consuming to prepare.
While Campbell said she "assumed" the added-on hours had not been worked. She also acknowledged that the "write-up" practice did not seem to be a secret around the office; she said she addressed it openly in emails and among colleagues, and spoke to Stodder about it directly on two occasions when Moret was not in the office.
When one of Stodder's lawyers, Michael L. Resch, began his cross-examination, however, Campbell's composure began to falter. Apparently struggling to maintain a stiff upper lip, she carefully and succinctly responded as he asked if her "frustration ... was that you had to do work, isn't that right?"
Resch also inquired about Campbell's discussions with other Fleishman employees, prodding her tell of interactions with account executives asked – under the direction of Moret – to write descriptions of allegedly illegitimate "written up" hours. How did those staffers react to these requests? Resch wondered.
"They seemed a little uncomfortable," Campbell recalled. "But they never said anything."
The trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday morning.