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….