Sunday, February 2, 2014

                   MOMENTS OF LUCIDITY

                The Real Story From a Real Victim

A few years ago District Attorney Paul Johnson fired four lawyers after the county lost a federal lawsuit filed by a woman who was upset by a thoughtless comment by one of those lawyers. She claimed discrimination despite his apologizing both in writing and face-to-face with the district attorney in the room. Despite the fact that he was disciplined for the comment.
On Friday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that, saying there was no factual basis for the suit. The county wins. Paul Johnson is celebrating. Meanwhile, the four he fired remain with besmirched reputations. One of those four is Ryan Calvert. He lost a job he loved because he was the brother-in-law of the man who made the thoughtless comment. Below, please read every word of what he has to say about how that callous action by a boss worried about the political repercussions affected his life.

Leadership requires courage.  Merriam-Webster’s defines courage as “moral strength to persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”  In its simplest terms, courage is doing the right thing for the right reasons, even when it’s hard.  Leadership also requires loyalty: a belief in, and support of those who serve with you when they are in the right. 
A District Attorney must be a leader; someone who has the courage to do what is right even if doing so brings risk.  That quality is central to the role of the District Attorney.  It inspires others and allows them to perform their often difficult jobs with the knowledge that their elected DA is in their corner. 
I served as a felony prosecutor under Paul Johnson from the time he took office in January of 2007 until June of 2012 when he fired me, my sister Susan, her husband Cary, and John Rentz following a judgment in a lawsuit against Denton County by another prosecutor; A judgment that has now been dismissed entirely because, as Paul Johnson well-knew, the case lacked any factual basis from the beginning.      
In the nearly six years I served under Paul Johnson, I never received anything but praise from him and his first assistant, Jamie Beck.  My performance evaluations were stellar and I was never disciplined.  This is true of the time before the lawsuit, at the time of the lawsuit, and after the lawsuit was filed.  In fact, the only conversation I ever had with Johnson or Beck regarding my involvement in the lawsuit was to be told that I had done nothing wrong and “not to worry about it”. 
In addition, the policy in Paul Johnson’s office is that nobody talks to the media except Jamie Beck (including, incidentally, Paul Johnson).  So while the Plaintiff, herself a prosecutor in Paul Johnson’s office, was free to go on television and in the newspaper with her lawyer, and cast aspersions upon me and my family, I could not respond.  For three years, I refrained from defending myself because I believed that eventually, I would have the opportunity to do so.  In the end, I did not.     
When the lawsuit went to trial in 2012, I was not given a day in court.  I did not get to testify.  Paul Johnson knew that everything alleged about me in the lawsuit was untrue.  In fact, through pretrial discovery, Johnson knew that the Plaintiff herself had acknowledged under oath that what she said about me in the lawsuit never happened.
Three days after that trial, despite his glowing praise and his personal knowledge that I had never done anything wrong, Johnson fired me.  He did so because, in that moment, he felt it was politically expedient. 
I wasn’t there the day I was fired.  I had jury duty in Tarrant County.  It fell to my sister, who, herself, had just been fired along with her husband, to tell me that I was fired from a job to which I had given so much of myself.  As I write this on February 1, 2014, I still have never heard a word from Paul Johnson, despite having been in his presence on occasions since. 
Which brings me back to courage and loyalty.  Paul Johnson knew I was right.  He knew I had done nothing wrong.  He knew the Plaintiff herself acknowledged her claims about me were not true.  For three years after the lawsuit was filed, Paul Johnson was quite happy to have me in the DA’s Office representing him every day, and trying cases on his behalf.  But after the civil trial in which I was not allowed to participate, having me there became hard.  So he abandoned me in the most public way possible and allowed me to be branded a racist when he knew I was not, because he felt he stood to gain from doing so.  That speaks loudly and clearly as to who Paul Johnson is as a man, and who he is not, as a leader. 

Interestingly, on Paul Johnson’s re-election website, he has listed ten cases under the heading “Keeping the Community Safe”.  Of all the cases prosecuted in Denton County, he has chosen those ten to tout as achievements of his administration; as reasons why he should be re-elected.  Three of those cases (Barton, Logan, Gower), were tried by me.  So now, nearly two years after publicly abandoning me for political gain, Paul Johnson has no problem taking credit for things that I achieved while there.  Because today, doing so is politically expedient.  Again, that speaks volumes about who Paul Johnson is as a man, and who he is not as a leader. 
Now, over four years after it began, the lawsuit has been thrown out in its entirety by the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  In making its ruling, the Court said that the Plaintiff had “no factual support” for allegations she made against me in the case, and no basis for any legal claim against Denton County whatsoever. 
That baseless lawsuit cost the taxpayers of Denton County upwards of $300,000.  It also cost me my job, along with three others, despite the fact that I had done nothing wrong.  The initial trial of that lawsuit, in which I was not given an opportunity to participate, had enormous consequences for me and for my family.  Yet Paul Johnson, the person who was at the center of that trial, had no consequences. 
And what of the person who filed the lawsuit in the first place?  What of the person who sued me in Federal Court based on claims she later admitted never happened?  She remains in Paul Johnson’s office and has been promoted several times since.  Will there be any accountability for her actions?  Will she have to repay the taxpayers the costs of bringing a lawsuit based, in large part, on things that were not true?      
I grew up in Denton County.  My family still lives there.  So while I have no desire to work as a prosecutor in Denton County again, I care about the people that make up that community.  The people of Denton County deserve a leader in a position as important as District Attorney.  They deserve someone who will do the right things for the right reasons, even when doing so is difficult.  Because that’s what courage is.  And courage is not too much to ask from someone charged with protecting the community.  But courage is something with which Paul Johnson is not familiar. 

Ryan Calvert 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

                        Moments of Lucidity

     I have Chicken Dance Elbow.
     My daughter told me not to talk about it, but I feel that full disclosure is the right thing to do.
She was been staying with at the time and she already had hung a few of those sentiment signs around the house. You know the ones: “No matter where I serve my guests, they always like my kitchen best,” and “Live, laugh, love.” Like that.
     Hers say “Remember, as far as the rest of the world knows, we’re a normal family,” and,  “What happens in the house stays in the house.”
     But I told her that if I kept this to myself you would all lose faith in me. She just rolled her eyes.
     It happened one night when I was surfing the web. You know how that goes – you start out Googling for a sour cream enchilada recipe and up pop dozens of possibilities from the definition of sour grapes to the location of the nearest store that sells crème de cacao. And when you click on that one you get all kinds of interesting liquors you never tried before but want to experiment with right then. So you drive to a liquor store and come home with a box full of pretty bottles holding liquids in jewel colors that just beg to be sipped. And the next thing you know, you’re doing the chicken dance.
     That is not what happened to me.
     No, really.
     I happened across the clip quite innocently as I was looking at movie trailers on my computer. The catchy music started, and some cartoon chickens began the dance. Now, nobody doesn’t do the chicken dance when the music plays. You can’t help yourself. It’s like trying not to dance when Brave Combo is playing. You can’t not dance when Brave Combo is playing anything. And if it’s the chicken dance, well…
     Of course you know the steps. Everyone knows the steps because there actually are no steps. It’s all in the arms and the hips. Da ta da ta da ta da…. Put your hands in the air in front of you and form beaks with your thumbs and fingers. Open and close your beaks four times. Da ta da ta da ta da…. Hook your fingers under your armpits and flap your wings four times. Da ta da ta da ta da…. Bend your knees and wiggle your tail feathers four times. And finish with a clap, clap, clap, clap. Then you dance around in a circle until you get dizzy and then you start over. It was the wing flapping that got me.
     I was sitting at my desk in my home office at the time and the chair has wooden arms. So when I flapped, I cracked my left elbow on the left arm of the chair. Sounded kind of like da ta da ta da ta da…. “# **&!”
     Christi came running in from the living room to see what all the “#**&”ing was about. I explained amid moans and curses and rubbing my elbow.
     “You cracked your elbow while doing the chicken dance while sitting in a desk chair,” she said.
     “Nobody ever did anything that stupid,” she muttered under her breath as she stalked out of the room.
     “Remember the time you turned over in bed and a bed spring impaled itself in your butt?” I called out. “Remember you had to call 911 and half the fire department turned out to watch the extraction?”
     “That was different,” she said indignantly.
     “Of course it was. There was no music to go with the bed spring.”
     At one time I had a stuffed chicken that danced and played the song. I loved that stuffed chicken and played with it often at my office before I retired. It disappeared one night after I went home and I never saw it again. Soon, though, I had a four-foot-tall stuffed giraffe that someone lost beside the building (seriously? How do you lose a giraffe?) and it was quiet, so nobody took it away from me.
     Christi moved out after that. It had nothing to do with the chicken dance, I’m sure.
But, admit it. At some point while you were reading this column you flapped your wings. Yeah, you did.
     OK, maybe you didn’t. But you’re dying to do it now. So go ahead, I won’t tell. Da ta da ta da ta da….

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


        Of Dinosaurs and Fishing Worms

I’ve been thinking about dinosaurs.

I’m one, right down to the big sharp teeth and long spiky tail. And my friend Mike Trimble is right there beside me waiting to become a lump of coal.

I was a newspaper reporter longer than I would prefer to admit having been alive. And I and my way of doing business are pretty much extinct. Journalism as I knew it when I started at the Denton Record-Chronicle is tottering along supported by flashy new methods that don’t have a thing to do with informing the public.

Now I never worked with anyone who wore a press card in his hatband or kept a pint of bourbon in his desk drawer. But for years after I started, the newsroom air was thick with curses and smoke, and nobody took a 15-minute break. Ever.

An Associated Press machine ticked away by the copy desk and spit out the news on long strips of paper. Occasionally it chimed one or two bells, and the news editor would check to see what was going on to excite the machine. If it ever chimed more than four times the entire newsroom jumped up and rushed over to find out what major national catastrophe the machine was regurgitating.

Huge rumbling presses occupied the back half of the building and in front you could literally feel them start to line newspapers off the roller with the ink still damp. When you handled the paper back then, your fingers got smudged. That’s where my fellow dinosaur, former opinion page editor Mike Trimble, got the term “inky wretch” that he sometimes threw into his national prize winning editorials.

Lord, how I loved all that!

The newsroom was in a much smaller area in that same building on East Hickory Street, but at first the eastern half contained the Russell Newman pantie factory. When it closed, we expanded into part of their area, producing news stories instead of underwear.

Weldon Burgoon sold saddles and western wear across the street. Still does I guess. Jimmy Normile sold auto parts next door to him, and I used to love to sit on a bench seat from a junked car in front and watch traffic go by with Jimmy. Lawyers hung out there and sometimes cops, and I got some of my best news tips at Barneys. There hadn’t been a Barney there for years, even back then, but Jimmy left the name to save money on buying a new sign. Recently the city condemned his building, and I think they plan to put a fern bar there.

Back in the newsroom, all our desks were pushed up together in two or three long lines. There were no secrets among newsies. We used electric typewriters and threw our copy in a basket on the news desk for the slot man to hand out to copyeditors.

The ambiance was punctuated with quips and shouts and curses. Nobody took offense. We’re all so much more civil now. Nobody curses much and if they did they probably would be filed on for some non-politically-correct infraction.

A small intimate theater shares the DRC building now – a much tonier neighbor, I suppose. The garage door store further up the street has been replaced by loft apartments, and restaurants are all around. A California-style taco joint has replaced the feed store. There’s even a wine and cigar bar across the street.

Inside, everyone works in cubicles and the news creeps in silently through the copy editor’s computers. The big press is gone. The news goes silently back out through those computers to a press in Plano.

I used to bang heads with Lafayette Newland over page layout in the backshop. He always had a chaw of tobacco in his mouth. I’d just keep arguing until his mouth filled with juice and threatened to drown him, and then he’d throw up his hands and head for the back door to spit. It was a crude way to win, but effective.

I once met a confidential source at a sporting goods store/soda fountain on the square. He was late. The clerks were suspicious about why I was hanging around the ammunition aisle. Finally I bought five jelly-worm fishing lures to stave them off. The story from that source helped get a corrupt politician out of office. I kept the lures for years but they finally melted to the bottom of my top desk drawer and I threw them away.

Later I met my sources in a coffee shop but it’s gone now too.

But I realize, thinking back, that no matter whether I got my tips along with car parts or fishing lures or café mocha, it was still the news. No matter whether I pecked it out on a typewriter or a computer that corrected my typos; no matter if they someday turn Barneys into a fern bar and the DRC into a venue for ballet – there’s still the news, people. There’s still the story.

Trimble and I, dinosaurs that we are, fell from grace at the DRC. He was fired for standing his ground in an ethical impasse and I couldn’t bear it there without him. That grit we had, the wit, the nose forever sniffing out the story, doesn’t seem welcome within those walls anymore. He and I meet once a week for lunch, and we hash over the old times and the old stories, like the time he wouldn’t let me use the term “plumber’s crack” in a column. And the time the school superintendent picketed the office wearing a sandwich board. And the time my car fell through a bridge while I was covering a flood.

Everyone believes their times were the good old days. Everyone remembers high-jinks and triumphs and where they were when the twin towers went down.

The news is still the news, but it seems more sterile now. The stories seem to be all happy tales, careful not to make anybody mad.

Someone else pounds out editorials and police reports in the old pantie factory now. Someone else has the bylines and the deadlines and the eternally ringing phones.

As for Trimble and I, we’re OK.


Monday, September 30, 2013

                                                                THE COP SHOP

Suspect, victim arrested after he tries to throw her out of car

Police responded to reports of a man hitting a woman and trying to throw her out of a car in the 2300 block of South Loop 288 about 1:20 p.m. Sunday. They spotted the moving car on I35 near the University Drive exit and made a traffic stop.

They found the woman had injuries and took the 33-year-old man to jail on charges of family violence assault. But a computer check showed the 24-year-old woman had a outstanding warrant from Carrollton police for alcohol violations, so she was also taken to jail as well.

Other reports

3600 block of Marianne Street - A woman called for help about 10 p.m. Sunday. Arriving officers found the 42-year-old man had hit the 39-year-old woman in the face with a metal spatula, causing a cut to her eye. The man also had punched her in the jaw and kept her from leaving the house, according to the report. They charged him with family violence assault.

1700 block of McKinney Street - Officers arrived at Mack Park about 5:45 p.m. Sunday in response to a report that a man was choking a woman. They found the couple, and she said she had nearly fainted because of her impeded breath. Two witnesses backed up the 45-year-old woman's story of the attack. The 60-year-old man was charged with family violence assault/impeding breath. One of the witnesses had an outstanding warrant, and he also went to jail.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

                               THE COP SHOP

Driver missing after accident

Denton police, a University of North Texas search dog and Denton County deputies looked for the missing driver of a silver pickup truck early Saturday after he walked away from an accident with a head injury.
A caller reported about 2:55 a.m. that the truck left the roadway at the corner of Shady Shores Road and Lakeview and struck a tree. The caller said he found the man standing outside the truck with bleeding injuries to his head. He told the man he had called 911 and the man began walking away from the scene.
Denton police asked for help from a UNT search dog and handler but they found no sign of the driver. They asked county deputies to go to the man's house and see if he was there, but the deputies were unsuccessful in locating the man. An investigation is continuing.

Other reports

2200 block of Yorkshire - A 48-year-old disabled man told police Saturday morning that the person he lives with has been assaulting him for a long time. The man said the latest assault - from the person who was not identified as male or female - was carried out with a cane. He said he also has been struck in the back of the head with a frying pan and punched in the nose. Detectives are investigating.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

                                   THE COP SHOP

Wrong way driver arrested for car theft

An officer noticed a car driving the wrong way down Elm Street, which is a one-way street, about 4:40 a.m. Friday. The officer made a computer check and saw that the car had been reported stolen to Lewisville police.
The officer made a traffic stop on Mulberry Street at Carroll Boulevard. He arrested the 26-year-old female driver for theft over $1,500. A search of the car turned up four pipes used to smoke methamphetamines between the passenger seat and the center console. The officer arrested the 46-year-old male passenger for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Other reports

3500 block of East McKinney Street - A woman called police about 9:30 a.m. Friday to report that she was walking down the stairs from her apartment and a man standing below pulled down his pants and exposed himself to her. She said this is the second time the man has done this. She reported that the apartment complex maintenance man was chasing the suspect. The report did not reveal whether the maintenance man actually caught the suspect, but no arrests were made.

200 block of Bluebird Circle - A 27-year-old woman reported Friday that her husband had been assaulting her physically and sexually for the past year. One of the assaults put her in the hospital, she said. She now has left him and wants to press charges for the past crimes.

400 block of Foxwood Circle - A woman reported that her former boyfriend came to her home and stole her car. She told police a location where she believed her car might be found. Officers went to the location and the car was there. They retrieved some personal items belonging to the victim and returned them to her. They called a wrecker and had the car towed to an impound site. They told the woman where her car could be retrieved.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

                      THE COP SHOP

Elementary schooler attacks parents in parking lot

An elementary school official called police about 8:30 a.m. Monday to report that a student was attacking his parents in the school parking lot. The boy's mother asked the principal to call because she wanted to press charges, according to the report.

Other reports

200 block of Inman Street - A 19-year-old woman called for help about 2 p.m. Sunday, saying she was being assaulted by her former boyfriend in her apartment. The report did not give specifics, but the 19-year-old man was charged with unlawful restraint, assault that impeded breathing and interfering with an emergency call.

1100 block of Chapel Drive - A 79-year-old woman reported about 10:30 a.m. Sunday that someone had used information from her Facebook account to try to perpetrate a scam on some of her friends.