Waiting to hear just when (or if, considering appeals) he goes to federal prison in the Fleishman-Hillard case, Doug Dowie is writing up a storm. In addition to the screenplays for which he has gotten a lot of attention, the former journalist and F-H boss in L.A. recently posted about the Times on the PR blog Strumpette. Now he has a first-person piece at Lawdragon, the legal website and magazine started by ex-Daily Journal editor Katrina Dewey and friends. He talks about being shocked by his conviction, compares City Controller Laura Chick to Joe McCarthy, makes some legal points and insists again that he has done nothing illegal.
On a brilliant June morning in 2005 as I'm driven past the DWP building, handcuffed in the back seat of an FBI sedan, I'm struck by the pure irony of the scene. For years, the DWP was one of my largest and most important clients. Now I was on my way to a federal courtroom to be charged in a conspiracy to overbill the department for, of all things, public relations, a profession I never intended to practice when I planned my life 37 years earlier as a Marine in Vietnam.
I had been a reporter and editor for nearly 20 years before I was seduced by the much higher salaries in public relations, where my journalism experience and political contacts helped me succeed beyond my wildest expectations. I was a senior partner and senior vice president at the Los Angeles office of public relations giant Fleishman Hillard, which I had joined in 1991. I hired the best, most talented people in town — former reporters, editors and political staff. My public affairs practice grew, and I was promoted to general manager in 1999.
A second agent, a pleasant young woman, sat next to me in the back seat on the ride to the Roybal Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. She could have easily been one of my children’s teachers. As I stared out the car window at the DWP building, she asked me if I had ever had SARS or had recently returned from a foreign country with a cough.
That's when it hit me: I was in a really bad movie. A stinkeroo. Who would ever believe this lousy plot? Except for smoking a little pot when Jefferson Airplane was still on the charts, I never intentionally broke a law in my life. I had taken a polygraph test five months earlier to prove I was never aware of any illegal billing and passed with flying colors. I volunteered to take an FBI polygraph. The prosecutors weren't interested.
I prided myself on being the kind of guy who drove five miles back to the market if I discovered the clerk had given me too much change. I didn't take two newspapers out of the box. I raised my kids that way and was extremely proud of it. I had been president of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, helping raise thousands of dollars to combat censorship and open courtrooms to cameras. I also had served on the board of at least another dozen charitable and civic organizations.
Let's jump ahead below the fold, where Dowie talks about his family and his post-conviction interview with Rick Orlov and Beth Barrett, reporters he edited at the Daily News.
I was accused of defrauding my best client — the client I thought about first thing in the morning and last thing at night — and not even profiting from the purported fraud.
But this is Hollywood. We make a lot of bombs here. I mean, my God, a federal agent is driving me past the alleged crime scene while another in the back seat who looks like a young Laura Bush is asking if I have an infectious disease. And if I look over my left shoulder I can actually see the H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign on the hills!
Hold tight, I thought, you’ve been through worse — it can't be as bad as Vietnam — and soon the last reel of this bomb will end.
I was wrong on both counts. I'd never seen worse, and I'm still waiting for the movie to end.
On May 17, 2006, after a monthlong trial, I was convicted of conspiracy and wire fraud for allegedly overbilling the Department of Water and Power and several other clients in the neighborhood of $529,000 over the last six years while I ran the Los Angeles office of Fleishman Hillard. During that period, the average annual revenue of the office was $10 million.
In his closing argument, one of my defense lawyers, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Nick Hanna, told the jurors I was innocent. He said cheating my clients by that much would have been tantamount to Tiger Woods knocking a golf ball into a hole with his foot.
The government, which conceded that I never reviewed, nor even signed, any of the bills in question, called 15 witnesses, most of them former colleagues and clients. Not a single witness testified that I had told them to falsify a bill. The bulk of the government’s case against me consisted of the testimony of a former senior vice president — a one-time Los Angeles deputy mayor — who admitted in a plea agreement to defrauding the Los Angeles DWP. He testified that although I never told him to falsify a bill, he thought that was what I wanted him to do. Why he never came to me and asked me what I meant, I'll never know. He was sentenced to probation and community service.
My 17-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son left the courtroom following Hanna's brilliant closing argument convinced their father would be acquitted. So did many other observers of the case. I told Nick at the time that no matter what happened I'd never forget what he did for my kids.
The jury deliberated for a week and a half. Convinced that the government hadn't proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, I was stunned by the verdict. I called my kids. I called my brother in New Jersey and broke the news. I asked him to tell my ailing, 85-year-old mother. I wasn't afraid to go to Vietnam, but telling my mother that her eldest son had just been convicted of multiple felonies was something I just couldn't handle.
I got a little drunk with my closest friends. Then I got up the next morning and vowed to continue to fight to clear my name.
I agreed to be interviewed by two reporters for the Los Angeles Daily News. After college, I was a reporter for United Press International and later became its Los Angeles bureau manager. In 1985, I was recruited by the Los Angeles Daily News to be business editor. A short time later I was promoted to metro editor, then managing editor of news.
Both Daily News reporters who met for lunch that day worked for me when I was at the newspaper. They were two of my best. I once edited their copy. Now I was their copy. One of them had covered the entire trial, bringing a cushion to every session to deal with the hard wooden benches. She asked if I was "sorry." I responded that I had just finished fighting nearly two years to prove my innocence. The jury had seen it differently, and I respected its verdict, but I was still innocent. Even if I wanted to apologize, I said, I wouldn't know what to apologize for.
Read the whole thing.
Photo: Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer