Many years ago, I proudly represented former New York Stock Exchange CEO Richard Grasso. A scumbag New York attorney general named Eliot Spitzer forced Grasso out of his job on allegations that Grasso was overpaid. The NYSE then hired former prosecutor Dan Webb to investigate Grasso’s compensation and how it was awarded. Webb’s bombshell conclusion: Grasso was overpaid by $156.7 million during his eight-year tenure in the top job.
A test: Name the NYSE’s current CEO. Many people on Wall Street can’t even answer that question. The NYSE went into a tailspin immediately after Grasso was forced out, and today it’s just a black box with blinking lights on a shelf in an unmarked facility likely somewhere in New Jersey. When Grasso ran the NYSE, the exchange was considered a mighty symbol of capitalism and he was a near household name. In the aftermath of 9/11, Grasso was hailed a national hero. He deserved every penny of his compensation, which is why he ultimately prevailed and kept every single penny.
The lesson here is that if lawyers are hired with an implicit mandate to destroy someone, you can rest assured they will come up with the goods, even if the target is a saint like Mother Teresa. The Webb Report was riddled with errors, innuendo, and selective facts but the media reported everything as absolute truth. That’s why I’m not prepared to accept as gospel every allegation contained in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ takedown of Governor Andrew Cuomo. One of the “independent” authors of James’ report was Anne Clark, whose specialty is representing sexual harassment plaintiffs. The other author was Joon Kim, a former prosecutor.
I’m not doubting the broader conclusions of James’ report, and while I don’t like the process used to bring down Cuomo, it couldn’t happen to a nicer and more deserving guy. My interest in James’ report are allegations made against Alphonso David, which are being investigated by a law firm. Although the verdict hasn’t yet been rendered, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has already issued her ruling and called for David’s resignation. Nessel also has righteously declared she won’t take any monies from David’s organization until he is gone.
David, who is openly gay, is president of the Human Rights Campaign, a LGBTQ+ advocacy group. He is the first civil rights lawyer and the first person of color to lead the organization in its 40-year history. This month marks David’s two-year anniversary on the job. Prior to joining HRC, David served as counsel to Cuomo and earlier was Deputy Secretary and Counsel for Civil Rights in New York. David’s bio suggests a very distinguished career.
James’ report alleges that David provided counsel to Cuomo relating to a draft op-ed letter aiming to attack one of Cuomo’s sexual harassment accusers. The report also alleges that he agreed to help find other staffers to sign the letter, although he wasn’t prepared to sign it himself. The letter was never submitted.
David admits that he provided counsel to Cuomo, but insists he was “legally obligated” to in his capacity as Cuomo’s former counsel. He has denied that he agreed to recruit staffers to sign the letter or that he played any role in leaking information about Cuomo’s accuser. HRC has hired a law firm to investigate David’s role.
The corporate media shoots first and sometimes asks questions later, and Nessel has shown she’s quick to hop aboard the cancel culture bandwagon before all the facts are known. “I will not be accepting any campaign donations or support from @HRC unless and until there is a new president of this organization,” Nessel tweeted last week.
It seems reasonable to expect that an attorney general in a major state would respect due process, and not publicly condemn someone before all the facts are independently examined. It’s not clear what, if any, monies HRC has donated to Nessel’s campaign. I reached out to her press people Monday, but I don’t expect to hear back. Nessel is understandably not a big fan of my work, as I’m one of the few journalists not enamored that she’s Michigan’s first Jewish and openly lesbian attorney general, details she highlighted when first elected.
For all Nessel’s righteousness about not accepting HRC campaign contributions until David is ousted, I note that her biggest financial supporter is the United Auto Workers Michigan, whose PAC has contributed $68,000 since 2017. I can find no statement from Nessel declaring she won’t accept UAW money in the wake of rampant leadership corruption and convictions. An attorney general relying on contributions from a union whose former leaders are rotting in jail hardly inspires confidence or trust.
David isn’t the only known instance where Nessel’s rendered judgments seemingly driven for PR purposes rather than principle. A more alarming example was Nessel’s urging that a violator of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s controversial lockdown policies be arrested in advance of an appearance on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson program.
According to emails obtained by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy under the Freedom of Information Act, upon learning that a restauranteur who defied state lockdown orders was slated to appear on Carlson’s program, Nessel had this exchange with her staff.
“Do we know her whereabouts? We should just have her picked up before she goes on. This is outrageous,” Nessel declared.
“Should I be prepared to respond to this?” Nessel asked in an email thread that followed. “I hope she gets the full 93 days for this. (Is that the max for civil contempt or just criminal contempt?)”
“Does MSP (Michigan State Police) intend to go find her? Or are they planning to wait until next week?” Nessel asked.
Even if one supports Whitmer’s lockdown measures, an attorney general cavalierly ordering the arrest of someone planning to exercise their First Amendment rights and explain their position on national television should give pause for concern. The restaurant owner, who was arrested a week later, had already suffered considerable economic harm. Nessel’s emails betray a decided lack of empathy and a mean spiritedness, character defects that are dangerous in an official with the power to take away a person’s freedom. That lack of empathy was also evident in Nessel’s gleeful arrest of an elderly barber for defying lockdown orders and then going on television to bad mouth him.
Nessel has demonstrated her hypocrisy in other areas. She was critical of her predecessor’s use of outside law firms to handle prosecutions, but she’s done the same. One of the lawyer’s Nessel’s placed on the public’s dole is Chris Kessel, her former business partner. When Nessel ran for office, she ran afoul of campaign finance disclosure laws. That’s a big deal in a state whose government officials rank at the very bottom for transparency.
Healthcare, an area where state AGs often look to make their mark, isn’t Nessel’s strong suit.
Michigan, particularly Oakland County, is known to be hotbed of elder guardian abuse, but Nessel is dragging her feet doing anything about it. A commission she appointed two years ago to study the matter only recently came up with legislative recommendations. Nessel doesn’t have the resolve or the skill to champion legislation in Lansing.
Nessel, who oversees nonprofits including hospitals, is ultimately responsible for the implosion of Beaumont Health, the biggest hospital network in southeastern Michigan and once ranked among the best regional systems in the country. A prominent attorney and former board member alerted Nessel a year ago about patient safety issues at Beaumont’s flagship Royal Oak hospital, but she ignored his warnings.
In January, a healthy patient died undergoing a routine colonoscopy. Beaumont Royal Oak was once among America’s best hospitals for cardiac care; the hospital was recently advised that by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons that it now ranks among the lowest five percent in the country for cardiac bypass and cardiac valve surgery. There have been other patient safety issues as well.
Beaumont CEO John Fox, who is responsible for Beaumont’s decline, hopes to merge his crippled hospital network with Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health. Although studies show that hospital mergers lead to higher costs and poorer patient care, and Spectrum’s former CFO has warned the marriage could result in a “massive financial loss,” Nessel is expected to rubber stamp the deal.
The tragedy is that under former AG Frank Kelley, who held that office for 37 years, Michigan was the most respected state in the country for pioneering prosecutions and consumer protection leadership. Michigan is also chock full of some of the best lawyers in the country. It’s a wonder someone of such middling legal talent is overseeing the state’s AG’s office.
Michigan is a bellwether state, and Nessel’s elevation to attorney general serves as a warning. She’s popular with the corporate media because she appeals to their puerility and bias, like running ads urging voters to elect candidates “without a penis” and calling President Trump “a petulant child.” Nessel’s antics have so sullied public perception of the AG’s office that she was compelled to issue a plea asking residents to stop telling her staff to “shove Sharpies up their butts.”
Therein is the consequence of electing an unfair, unprincipled, and immature politician to a critical public office. Michiganders are learning that lesson the hard way.