Posts tagged with "litigation support"


Times Square bomber caught despite investigation-threatening leaks

Posted by Michael Heenan   on May 7, 2010, 8:41 am

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NPR this week took a look at an aspect of the Time Square case that will be all too familiar to law enforcement professionals and journalists alike.  The story (here: www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php) chronicles how reporters learned of -- and acted on -- key details in the investigation well before the suspect was arrested.  In fact, it seems clear that the arrest happened in spite of a number of instances in which news reports kept the suspect almost as informed as those who were closing in on him.

It's easy, and usually correct, to be disgusted at the judgment of a news organization that sends crews to wait outside the home of a suspect who otherwise wouldn't know he's a suspect. When I worked with a local law enforcement agency, one assignment editor known for choleric fits and poor judgment intercepted radio traffic related to the kidnapping and ransom of an elderly woman.  The editor figured out which vehicle held the ransom cash and undercover detectives and sent a van --  emblazoned with his station's logo -- to follow it to the rendez-vous point. For him, putting Granny's life at risk was secondary to getting the video.

But some disdain must be saved for the source of the leaks that madden law enforcement in these investigations. And that source, puzzlingly, is usually investigators themselves.  In the Times Square case, it appears friction between NYPD and the FBI led to a greater-than-usual level of whispers to reporters.  Certainly, the more agencies that are involved in a case, the less inhibited sources become when leaking information to the press.  (Although it must be said, leaks will occur even in cases where only one agency or a handful of investigators are involved.)

This principle is worth remembering when your organization's fate is tied in with those of your competitors or co-defendants.  One of your teammates, probably several, will grow dissatisfied with the strategy, tactics or pace and decide to tell someone with a notepad just how messed up everything is.

Tags: law enforcement, leaks, litigation support, Police

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LA Archdiocese finds legal reality clashes with public rhetoric

Posted by Michael Heenan   on May 4, 2010, 12:04 pm

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The LA Times this week looks at the settlement between the Los Angeles Diocese and victims of sexual abuse by clerics, three years later.  A key element of that settlement, the release of personnel files for accused priests, remains unfulfilled and the archdiocese appears to be in no hurry to comply.

The story is here: articles.latimes.com/2010/may/03/local/la-me-church-documents-20100504/2

The archdiocese finds itself in a situation that is more than common in times of litigation:

The organization creates and delivers messages to convince its members/customers/stakeholders that it has learned from the crisis and that things will be different now.  Words like "transparency" take up prominent residence in all of the organization's communications.

Meanwhile, the realities of litigation -- and Legal's need to protect the organization from future lawsuits -- require actions that are the opposite of transparency.

So, you end up with an organization that is saying one thing and doing another. The spokesman is handed lines to read about "doing everything humanly possible" and "standing shoulder-to-shoulder with victims" while the litigation team is actively fighting against the very reforms the organization is touting.

The net result is an organization that looks deceptive and plaintiffs' characterizations that sound more and more accurate as time goes on. 

 

Tags: Catholic church, crisis communications, litigation, litigation support, message discipline, sex abuse

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Ninth Circuit ruling not just about Wal-Mart

Posted by Michael Heenan   on April 28, 2010, 11:48 am

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There’s a fortune to be made in the profession of suing companies and cities for discrimination. In our society, the accusation is so odious, so threatening to a reputation, that the pressure to settle is intense. And if your client is a local government – which can’t recover its legal expenses from a baseless claim of civil rights violations – most plaintiffs can simply spend you to your knees.

But the real money is in class-action suits. A customary order of business for the plaintiff’s attorney after filing a discrimination claim is to begin assembling a class of plaintiffs. This can be difficult, as courts typically insist that class members be united by common experience supported by factual evidence.

This is why this week’s action by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals should worry every litigator who defends these actions. In a case involving up to 1.6 million past and current female Wal-Mart employees, the court found that class certification could be supported by “"factual evidence, expert opinions, statistical evidence, and anecdotal evidence.”

If you’ve read more than a couple of discrimination claims, you know that what sometimes passes for “statistical evidence” and “expert opinions” on the part of plaintiffs can be created out of thin air (and money). Adding “anecdotal evidence” to that list is enough to make defense attorneys and communications managers – not to mention the taxpayers, shareholders and consumers who ultimately foot the bills – very concerned.

Tags: bias, city government, communitiy policing, crisis communications, discrimination, lawsuits, litigation, litigation support, ninth circuit, Police, reputation

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Your legal briefs may be talking behind your back

Posted by Michael Heenan   on April 22, 2010, 9:41 am

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Your company is getting sued.  Plaintiff's counsel employs a dual-front strategy --- hammer at you in court and hammer harder in the press.  Your lawyers are adamant about staying out of a back-and-forth in the newspaper, so you're more or less forced to concede the field to your opponent as he chips away at your brand, your reputation, your workforce morale and your customer base.  By the time the case is settled, you may or may not have anything left that's worth protecting.

It's a powerless feeling.  And it's one companies,cities, agencies and non-profits find themselves in every day.  Fortunately, there are things you can do and steps you can take to defend your position and reputation without complicating your legal strategy.  They're not obvious to most companies, even to corporate communications specialists.  And, even the most open-minded litigator is going to have be talked into going along with them.

But the alternative is just awful.  Take the case of ADT, the security system provider.  They're being sued by the family of a murdered woman in Minnesota.  The woman bought an alarm system to protect her from a dangerous ex-boyfriend who later managed to cut her phone lines, smash a patio door, enter the home and murder her without triggering the alarm. 

ADT, wisely enough, is not commenting on the lawsuit in the press.  Well, not officially anyway.  In a story today, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites a filing the company made in the case that claims the local police agency is to blame for the woman's death.  If the suspect had been arrested following an earlier incident, they argue, the victim would be alive today.

It's one of those arguments that might be made for any number of reasons in the context of a lawsuit.  It almost certainly wasn't intended to represent the company's public response to the matter.  And yet, there it is, glaring out at the reader as representative of who the company is.  Worse still, it's surrounded by umpteen paragraphs chronicling the company's woes with other litigation and customer complaints.

It's one thing to decide you're not going to talk about pending litigation.  But often, that makes your litigator's words and filings the official voice of your company when your reputation is on the line.  And that can mean trouble.

Tags: ADT, crime, crisis communications, lawsuit, litigation support, Police, PR

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