Thanks for serving democracy; enjoy your stay in prison!

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Wild story in my inbox this morning: while temping as a word processor at the Los Angeles office of mega-law firm Jones Day, Steve Heller uncovered several documents indicating the installation of uncertified software in voting machines manufactured by Jones Day client, Diebold Election Systems, Inc. Two years after bringing the shenigans of his former employer to the light of day (that would be–ahem–just before the November 2004 election), Heller is being charged with three counts of felony by the Los Angeles District Attorney, supposedly under pressure by said former employer.

The email alerting me to all of this came from my friend, Peter Soby, Jr., a local film and theater producer, who has written a detailed and eloquent account of the nightmare for the Huffington Post. It’s a harrowing story of bullying, obfuscation and foul play on many counts; the worst of it is that this TEMP WORKER is now facing possible prison time for exposing a pretty serious case of potential voter fraud.

Peter includes several suggestions for helping to raise the profile of Steve’s case in his post, along with talking points and contact information. Additionally, the comments section had an excellent suggestion for bringing Steve’s plight to the forefront–get a big Hollywood dealmaker to offer him money for rights to the story.

All the links are included in Peter’s post (here); there are also links to the L.A. Times Feb. 22 coverage on the story here and to Lyn Davis Lear’s post for the Huffington Post here.

To me, the story is outrageous from several standpoints, but mainly it’s befuddling since California supposedly has a Whistleblower Protection Act in force (one commenter in the Soby post thread even pasted a story about reinforcement to that act a few years ago). I’m sure every temp has to sign an NDA at Jones Day, so yes, technically Steve Heller was breaking some kind of law. On the other hand, his employer if his employer was implicitly involved in felonious activities obstructing democracy…well, you do the math…

UPDATE: Sorry about that initial double-posting. I’m blaming it all on my horrible DSL connection in the beautiful hills of Silver Lake. Some items that went missing from the original post:

Image by vaguely_artistic via Flickr.

Good site on various federal and state whistleblower laws here.

5 Replies to “Thanks for serving democracy; enjoy your stay in prison!”

  1. This isn’t a whistleblower issue. Rather, Lawyers and their support staff (including temps) are bound by California Business and Professions Code ¬ß 6068(e), which requires: “(e) To maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her client.” The only exception is if disclosure of information would prevent certain death or serious bodily injury.

  2. I think common sense would dictate that if you know your employer is engaged in illegal acts it is imperative that your report said acts to the proper authorities. Otherwise, aren’t you then considered an accomplice?

    The only problem, I think, is if you broke confidentiality and went straight to the press with this info, setting a bad precedent.

    Regardless, the fact that this did expose shady, illegal dealings suggests that Diebold and Jones Day are suing Heller looks to me like nothing short of bullying and revenge.

  3. The only exception is if disclosure of information would prevent certain death or serious bodily injury.

    The language of relating to that is crazy:

    Notwithstanding paragraph (1), an attorney may, but is not required to, reveal confidential information relating to the representation of a client to the extent that the attorney reasonably believes the disclosure is necessary to prevent a criminal act that the attorney reasonably believes is likely to result in death of, or substantial bodily harm to, an individual.

    “May, but is not required to?” That’s fucked up.

  4. As someone who just spent the last three months (+ a few years) studying such eye-brow raising professional responsibility (and someone who, should she want to practice, has to swear to uphold such nonsense), I share your frustration, 5000!.

    Believe it or not, the discretion to reveal confidences in the face of potential death/serious bodily injury is an advancement – since prior to this change, we couldn’t say shit at all.

    But moral obligations and statutory or state bar obligations are two different animals.

    There is, however, somewhat of a window for attorneys who feel their work is being used to forward a crime or fraud.

    I don’t know much about this case, but from what I gleen from the Huffington Post story linked in the above post, I’d say there are too many holes to fully evaluate whether or not Jones Day really did anyting wrong, or whether this temp is being wronged or just paying for his theft of confidential documents (which is no small thing: do you want someone lifting your legal documents. no, you don’t.)

    Also, if the documents show that Jones Day said “hey, Diebold, what you’re doing here is not so much with the legal,” and then Diebold does what it does anyway – that’s not Jones Day conspiring with them. Attorneys can’t force clients to do one thing or another.

    I hate BigLaw as much as the next former law student and/or American. But I think this story is more nuanced that the Post post makes it out to be.

  5. I appreciate your chiming in, CD. I was concerned about posting this since there were some key elements missing in both the post and the email that carried it. And as someone who (very reluctantly) was drawn into civil litigation, I’m well aware of the importance of maintaining confidentiality.

    What really got to me were two things: (a), the timing of the charges and (b) the vision I had in my head of this guy. I mean, really–I’m an actor and know lots of actors and so, lots of temps, and it’s just really, really hard to believe that some poor struggling actor (or writer, or whatever) is going to willingly sign up for fucking hell over nothing. I’m thinking old Steve thought long and hard about what the right thing to do before he did it; it just doesn’t make much sense any other way (except, perhaps, if he was going for some kind of crazy notoriety, and that’s a long shot).

    Stories are always more nuanced than anyone gives them time to be–even the Atlantic, and damn, they do ramble on! The way I see it, this is the beginning of what looks like an awful story; I just don’t want it to be the end, too, without more being brought to light.

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