By Richard Gaines
---- — Last May, a month after a special judicial master’s second report on misdeeds by NOAA enforcement lawyers had been delivered to the secretary of commerce, NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer led her national staff of 145 lawyers on a three day training program in Philadelphia at a cost of $288,500, according to documents released to the Times under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
The conference featured a self-understanding exercise led by vocational placement company to determine what roles in a fictional medieval kingdom the lawyers imagined themselves playing — “bishop,” “benevolent ruler,” “shepard,” “black knight,” “scientist,” “discoverer,” “merchant,” “prime minister,” “engineer-builder,” “dreamer-minstrel,” “white knight” and “doctor.”
The so-called “Kingdomality” training was invented and provided to NOAA’s legal staff by Career Management International from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the first day of the conference, based on an online questionnaire the NOAA lawyers completed before meeting in Philadelphia, according to the partial response to the Times’ FOIA last month.
Costing $2,500, the Kingdomality training describes the value of imagining living in medieval times for self awareness.
“With today’s diverse workforce, the corporate kingdom that acknowledges and nurtures these personality preferences could become an organization as successful as Camelot of old,” the placement company website explains.
At the time of the conference, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was in damage control mode after news reports beginning in the publications Government Executive and Politico reported that another arm of NOAA, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, had advertised for a magician as a motivational speaker for a June conference at NOAA’s general offices in Silver Spring, Md. That ad was posted on the day the Philadelphia conference began — and was withdrawn on its final day.
NOAA required the Times to use the FOIA to obtain information about the Philadelphia conference.
The three-day cost of approximately $2,000 per participant in it was elevated by the decision to take the conference out of the metropolitan District of Columbia, of which Silver Spring, Md, is a suburb. Sixty of the 145 participants live in the metropolitan D.C. area, according to NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen.
“NOAA reviewed a number of sites, including in and around Washington, D.C., and chose Philadelphia based on cost, convenience, available dates, and accessibility,” said Smullen. “The majority of General Counsel staff live outside of the D.C. region — of the approximately 145 total staff, 85 live outside of the D.C. region, in Alaska, Hawaii, California, Washington State, Massachusetts, and Florida.
The conference was based at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Philadelphia, approximately a 90-minute drive or about 100 miles from D.C. The government paid $0.565 per mile for travel in a private vehicle, and $0.24 per mile for travel in government vehicles, as well as train and air fare and in city travel, totaling $108,000. Site costs including rooms, meals, meeting space and furniture were $174,000. Speakers fees including added another $6,500.
On April 30, 2012, before the conference began, Schiffer led a one-day leadership council meeting of about 24 top lawyers.
The agenda turned over to the Times contains no reference to the troubling performances of fisheries’ litigators, especially the cadre based in the Northeast division offices here in Gloucester, which were spotlighted in multiple reports beginning in 2010 by the Commerce Department Office of the Inspector General, Todd Zinser. These found that fines for technical and limited violations of arcane regulations were vastly inflated in a system that induced settlements rather than risk even higher fines imposed by the U.S. Coast Guard administrative law judge system.
The IG also concluded that 90 percent of operations by the office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation were underwritten by the fines, and that record keeping and accounting were haphazard — and, at times, non existent. The Asset Forfeiture Fund was used to underwrite attendance of GCEL staff and Office of Law Enforcement agents at international conferences not directly related to their casework at exotic locations.
The IG’s multiple reports implied that many targets of GCEL activities were wrongly sanctioned and fined, but Schiffer initially advised Administrator Jane Lubchenco against any effort to review past cases and correct miscarriages of justice. Then-Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, now ambassador to China, overruled Lubchenco and Schiffer, however, and contracted with a special judicial investigator to follow the threads of the most troubling cases. In May 2011, based on the report by special master Charles B. Swartwood III, Locke issued an apology and reparations totaling more than $600,000 to 11 fishermen and fishing-related businesses.
At the request of the industry and the congressional delegation, Locke authorized Swartwood to do a second set of case studies, which followed the same lawyers’ activities back into the 1990s, and delivered a 554 page report to Locke’s successor, John Bryson, on April 6, 2012, almost a month before the Kindomality conference in Philadelphia. Not made public even in redacted form until earlier this month, the second Swartwood report concluded that two GCEL attorneys in Gloucester who extracted an excessive settlement from a New Bedford scallop fishing business owner in 2005 did the same thing years earlier to a pair of New Bedford fish processors using coercive methods “with an intention to intimidate.”
A detailed narrative of how GCEL attorneys Charles R. “Chuck” Juliand and James “Mitch” MacDonald improperly manipulated the system of fisheries enforcement law to drive Thomas R. F. Riley and his partner, Dennis Saluti, in Sea Rich Seafoods and another company to pay a $1 million cash penalty plus the loss of business licenses and fishing permits for what were found to be exaggerated charges was considered so onerous that NOAA made reparations to Riley and Salutti of $373,500 for the destruction of their business in 1997.
The Times was unable to confirm whether Juliand and MacDonald were at the Philadelphia conference.
NOAA has not fired or brought civil service charges against anyone for the documented misdeeds, but instead reassigned personnel including the former director of law enforcement.
Schiffer’s agenda at the leadership meeting before the general conference dealt with an employee job survey, budgeting, and workforce planning — how to compensate for chronic 8 percent vacancies in GCEL positions, and “practical approaches to union issues,” the documents show.
Along with Camelot fantasies to clarify self definition, the main conference featured training in subject areas of high priority including sustainable fisheries, and site visits to companies as diverse as the Naval Surface Warfare Center and Bartram’s Garden, the nation’s oldest botanical garden.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.