Thursday, December 21, 2017

Graham v MOA #4: Some Media Coverage, Finally

Casey Grove reported about the trial on APRN (it's dated 12/19/17 online).  His piece begins:
"The municipality of Anchorage has paid one of its firefighters more than three-quarters of a million dollars after his successful lawsuit against the fire department. 
It’s the second large civil award this year the municipality has paid to a public safety employee, after two police officers won $2.7 million last summer in a lawsuit over racial discrimination."
The dollar amount is different from what I reported back in August because Casey has added in the lawyers fees while I only had what the jury awarded Graham at the end of the trial.

It's been frustrating that, besides this blog, I'm unaware of any other media coverage of the case aside from this report and an earlier one by Casey back in April.  Obviously the MOA is happy that this is not covered and Graham's attorney doesn't feel it is professional to seek out publicity.  I've followed his lead here.

That said, I'd note that Casey learned about the case from me last April at the Alaska Press Club conference.  Casey had given an interesting talk on covering court cases which included different ways to get information on cases.  Afterward I mentioned one he hadn't mentioned - depositions.  Jeff Jarvi (Graham's attorney) had told me that depositions were open to the public.  The only problem was that the public doesn't have any way of knowing when they are held and who is being deposed.  I didn't know that before this case.  Casey asked how I knew this and I told him I was involved in a case, then asked me about the case I was involved in and I reluctantly told him. He looked it up and called the attorneys for both sides.  Jeff Jarvi questioned Casey about how he found out about the case, and like a good reporter, Casey said he couldn't divulge his sources.  I know that because attorney Jarvi told me about Casey's call and asked me if I had been Casey's source.

So why am I telling you this?   First, I think people should know about how the media work.  I didn't intend to tell Casey about the case, but as he pressed, I had no reason not to tell him the name of the case.
Second, and more importantly, is that this case was below the radar of Anchorage media. Even though it ended in the jury finding for the firefighter to the tune of $660,000.  And as Casey reports it was the second major case the MOA lost in 2017 - the first one involved the police department.

How many other stories are we missing?  This was a case where the jury, after three weeks of trial, found that the Municipality of Anchorage had breached its contractural duties of good faith and fair treatment.  That's a pretty big deal in my opinion.  And if it had been settled back in 2012 when Graham initially complained to the department of the unfairness, it could have easily been handled internally.  And, as I hope to explain in this series of posts, this was not simply about Jeff Graham. He was one of the few foolhardy enough or stubborn enough or mistreated enough  to stand up to the, yes, good old boy system in the fire department.

My Reaction To The Story Itself

It's hard to cover a lengthy trial that you didn't attend.  I salute Casey for making the effort.  You can read, or listen to the whole story yourself, but I did want to pull out this quote from  Anchorage Fire Department Deputy Chief Jodie Hettrick:
“It was a little frustrating for our side not to know exactly what they [the jury] felt that we did wrong,” Hettrick said. “Because we want to treat our employees fairly and equally and make sure that they don’t feel the department is doing something wrong. We want to fix things. It’s just hard to do that when you don’t have all the details.”
Hettrick said the oral exams are very similar to a job interview for any employer, and the fire department uses a scoring system for each question.
This is more than a little disingenuous.  It's the jury's job to determine the verdict.  In this case the jury wasn't asked if the MOA was "guilty" or "not guilty."  Instead, the jury had a series of yes/no questions that were finally agreed on by the two attorneys with the judge, as best as I can tell, being the final arbiter of what the jury instructions would be.  It isn't the jury's job to tell the MOA how Jeff Graham was mistreated.  It was their job to answer those yes/no questions.  And to calculate a monetary remedy.

I wish Casey had asked her if she had contacted any of the jurors to ask them.

Jeff Graham's attorney outlined in great detail how Graham was mistreated and what specific problems existed with the testing during the trial.  At least as much as he was allowed by the MOA's attorney's objections and the judge's sustaining the objections.  Deputy Chief Hettrick sat through the whole trial.  So if she doesn't know what the problems were, that, in itself, is a problem.

I will spell all that out in detail once again in these posts as best as I can - particularly concerning the highly subjective oral exams.  I will go through them in more detail than most people want to hear I'm sure.

A lot of it is technical and at first blush might not seem problematic, except to someone who has been trained in testing.  Unfortunately, the people in charge of testing (and the training for the tests) did not have the state certification that would have qualified them to designed the training and created the tests.  They had Fire Safety Instructor Training Certificate Level I.  (This includes now Deputy Chief Hettrick who was in charge of Training overall in the Fire Department at the time.  Though in her defense, she'd only just been hired.)  Level I certifies you as qualified to give training and exams that were designed by someone else.  Someone who had a Fire Safety Instructor Training Certificate Level II.  Hettrick defended this lack of proper certification by saying that there was no law in Anchorage that required it.  That doesn't change the fact that these folks didn't have the training which would certify their ability to create a training program and develop promotion tests.

I've concluded that these posts will have a lot of repetition and that isn't a bad thing.  It takes awhile to have enough context for specific facts to gain significance, like the training certificate levels.

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