Massa v Dickert: More Than You Want To Know

Sanford Dickert, who was fired by the Massa Campaign after a short tenure as campaign manager, has created a website devoted to his legal case.  It contains a huge number of documents, including court filings and supporting information.

Between his site and email conversations with Dickert, I've learned more than I've ever wanted to know about this dispute.  In this post, I'm going to do my honest best to separate out the charges that are relevant to the election from those that are part of the employment dispute.  Based on my review, there are three:

  1. Was there illegal activity that Massa knew about and should have reported?
  2. Is Massa trying to duck payment of a debt he's contractually obligated to pay?
  3. Did Massa commit perjury?

My conclusion:  There's no solid evidence to support any of these claims in the mountain of paper released by Dickert.

Let's begin with a bit about the evidence presented by Dickert.  He provides a number of documents that, to my knowledge, haven't been previously available to the media.  These include the employment contract between him and the Massa Campaign, and the preliminary filings for arbitration between the parties.

There's a wealth of information here, but it's mainly in the form of allegations, not facts.  Dickert includes some emails and campaign literature to support some of his allegations, but he generally points to the affidavits of some of his friends to support his reading of the case.  The Massa campaign has yet to provide most of their side of the story, which I assume would include their affidavits.

In other words, we're at the beginning of a process, this discussion is premature, and the best evidence (except for the contract itself) is he-said/he-said.  With that in mind, let's look at the charges that could be made against Massa that are relevant to his character:

1.  Massa knew about illegal activity he should have reported.

Let's start with some background. Dickert is an adjunct professor at Cooper Union in New York City.  When Dickert was hired by the Massa campaign, he apparently brought one of his former students and that student's friend with him as volunteers for the campaign.  These two were 18 and 19 years old, and they quit the Massa campaign the day Dickert was fired.  While in Corning, the students were housed in an apartment paid for by the campaign (at Dickert's suggestion, and perhaps without Massa's approval, though that's up for dispute).   A third resident of the apartment was another college-age boy, and the fourth was a 25-year-old woman who also worked for the campaign.

In his affidavit, Massa alleges that Dickert provided alcohol for underage drinkers in that apartment.  This charge is based on after-the-fact evidence:  Massa and the landlord apparently found beer and vodka in the apartment after Dickert was fired.  Dickert and the Cooper Union students claim the alcohol was purchased by the 25-year-old.  What's important for this discussion is that the only evidence that Massa had was circumstantial, and it was discovered after Dickert and the students left town.

The second major claim is that Dickert asked Massa's 16-year-old son to stay the night in the guesthouse where Dickert was living.  This charge is the least-well-documented of the whole bunch.  As far as I can tell from my email correspondence with Dickert, this looks like some kind of misunderstanding between Massa and Dickert.  My sense is that Dickert doesn't really understand how touchy parents can be about their teenagers.  But Massa certainly doesn't allege that anything remotely illegal happened between his son and Dickert.

By the way, the newspaper stories don't mention that the 16-year-old was Massa's son, presumably because they don't print the names of minors involved in alleged crimes.  However, it's clear in the now-public documents that Massa's son was the only 16-year-old involved.

Finally, there's the charge that Dickert solicited high-school boys for employment in the campaign.  The affidavits from Dickert's students bear this out.  The dispute is over whether he should have been doing it.  Massa thinks it's illegal and says he specifically instructed Dickert not to do it.  Dickert says it isn't illegal.  The real issue here isn't the supposed illegality: Massa also contends that parents complained about Dickert's solicitations, which of course is poison to a campaign.

In addition to the possibly salacious (but actually fairly tame) allegations, there are a few charges about Dickert's lack of knowledge of Federal Campaign laws, but none of that rises to the level of anything reportable to authorities.

I should note that in my first post, I hadn't seen the documents and assumed that the liquor and 16-year-old story were somehow connected to a party (especially since some damage occurred at the apartment).  That's not true, and I apologize for the error.  The truth is actually less damaging to Massa - something illegal might have happened, but nothing that happened could be credibly reported to the authorities.

2.  Massa's trying to get out of paying an obvious debt.

This brings us to the beginning of this whole mess:  the employment contract.  As an outsider, I have to read it as it stands, without the interpretation that Dickert and Massa attach to it.  I'm not a lawyer, but I've been involved with negotiation of contracts far more complex than this one.  I wouldn't have signed this contract.  There should have been more detail around the termination section, and more discussion of termination in general.

Dickert's position is that the Massa Campaign owes him at least $39,000, plus a $50,000 win bonus if Massa wins the election.  The campaign's position is that they owe Dickert a hell of a lot less than that, that he was terminated for cause, and that fraud is involved, since he misrepresented his resume.

I don't think we need to go into the nitty-gritty detail to determine whether Massa's ducking a bill.  My take is that Dickert gets to $39,000 using some extremely optimistic arithmetic that includes damages that are called for by a state labor law of questionable applicability.  In addition, the $50K is a no-go, because he was terminated for cause, and the contract says that he gets that money only if the termination was without cause.

Common sense doesn't have much place in a legal proceeding, but it does have a place in this discussion, since we're trying to see if Massa is trying to welsh on a debt.  Dickert was employed for about six weeks, and actually worked for a little more than a month, since he took some unpaid leave.  For his work, he expects between $39K and $89K, depending on how the campaign turns out.  Clearly, Dickert didn't work out.  That's got to be at least partially his fault, and his short tenure can't be the key to victory.

A reasonable person would not fork over potentially $89K for one month of work.  This is a legitimate dispute, not a ruse to avoid payment.

3.  Massa committed perjury.

This is the weakest accusation of the bunch.  Massa's affidavit in this case was signed under oath, so if he lied in that document, he's a perjurer.  The supposed evidence for this perjury is that Massa's account differs from three other affidavits filed in the case.

Two of the other affidavits are those of Dickert's student and friend.  They deny a couple of the charges made by Massa, but these two only saw a little bit of the entire picture.  In addition, they're clearly loyal to Dickert, having left the campaign the day he quit.  At best, this is a difference of interpretation, not evidence of perjury.

The other affidavit is by the woman who recommended Dickert to the campaign.  It addresses the issue of Dickert's inexperience.  In my opinion, it's a straw man.  Massa is charging that Dickert lied about leaving the Kerry campaign in 2004.  The affidavit shows that Massa was told that Dickert was inexperienced -- it doesn't address the more serious charge of misrepresentation.

Perjury is just a non-starter in this he-said/he-said dispute.

My conclusion is that there's nothing here that would make a reasonable person change their vote.  That doesn't mean that this whole mess won't affect votes.

I don't want to speculate about why this information was released less than a week before the election, but I hope we can return to the real issues of the campaign.  This is a sideshow.


Ho-hum. Tired of hearing about this already. Creating a Dickert v Massa web site a couple of days before the election is a strange way for a self-proclaimed Democratic supporter to help Democrats get elected in the midterms. Wonder why he was fired by the Kerry campaign? With supporters like these, Democrats don’t need the Republicans.

Rottenchester - I appreciate your take on the documents and am sorry that it seems like a blizzard of paper. You should understand that legal proceedings are such that way.

Couple of statements:The affidavits of the students were sworn testimony - which means, just time being on the witness stand, they are swearing that it is the truth. There was no coercion in it - and, in the court of law, are considered evidence.
The contract and all documents pertinent to the case have been in the hands of WETM TV (since Oct 18), WHAM TV (since Oct 23) and Bob Lonsberry (since Oct 31). The D&C did not get their own copy until I sent them to them (after they ran their story) and the S-G got my response documents after they had published the story. AP did not have the documents - and operated on the info from the D&C story. For the most part, the employment contract was part of the research.
The contract - yes, it is very unusual (IMHO). It was drafted in such a way because, as I explained to Massa, I was concerned that, given my inexperience as a campaign manager and the opportunities I as leaving (I had work going on in NYC that I gave up for the campaign) - I was willing to take the chance to be his campaign manager, but I wanted to know he truly supported me with a commitment - which included the severance package and the 50K bonus as long as I was not fired for cause.

If I was let go because the DCCC or some other Dem organization thought I was too inexperienced, then I would still benefit in the win. If I was let go for something I had done wrong, then I should not benefit.
Massa's contention that parent complained - at no time did he mention this to me - even in the dismissal. No email, no calls, no conversation. As the campaign manager, I was recruiting volunteers in the summer - is there something wrong with that?

Rottenchester - I agree that this should not be as big an issue as it has been getting - I am exhausted and unbelieveably tired. I have seen your response to the blizzard of documents on the site - and the main reason for it was that, I would not want others to think that I would only show documents in my favor. Instead of choosing choice documents, I have offered the information to anyone who thinks that the stories are not clear.

As a blogger and a person who works with bloggers - this was my recognition to all people concerned to get the details - and not play the typical legal game. Mr. Massa's attorney has said he has nothing to hide - but then used the statement of an ongoing case to the reporter from the Finger Lake Times to withhold his "evidence". Is it wrong to be transparent?

And - one final thought: what upsets me all the more is that the person benefiting from this is RANDY KUHL! James Kuhl picked up those files on the 1th and 18th of September and once I found out about it, I attempted to seal and gag those documents so they would not become part of this campaign (the judge denied the temporary gag order). Reporters got tipped off and I tried again, since they did not have the last document that would make the story (Massa's affidavit). Still it was not sealed. And then, Nolan claimed "First Amendment" and "nothing to hide", and so I gave up. Randy got it out - and this time, with clean hands.

Please understand - I went out into the District to change the leadership and get a person who I believed to be a remarkable man - 24 year Naval Veteran, Commander in the US Navy, cancer-survivor, family man with a terrific family who treated me with kindness and consideration, a man with an incredible grasp on national issues, and a fantastic speaker who could raise a room to incredible heights. He inspired me that first day I spoke with him on the phone - and coming out to the District meeting all the people in Allegany County, I felt there was an injustice that needed to be righted. The campaign was 2.5 people working in the carriage house - overworked, stressed, and unbelieveably tired - they needed help. That is why I came - that is why I joined. When I left, the campaign had new, furnished offices, up to 10 staff with volunteers, a field organization going, a potential Rochester office opening and a new website ready to launch. Our fundraising plans were firming up - and we were moving forward.

Do you actually think I would want to be wasting my time on these issues if it wasn't for the personal attacks Massa leveled against me? My career has been irreparably harmed because of this - which is why I have to fight for my good name. I ask you to put yourself in my shoes: if this was happening to you - what would you do? Better to understand my motivations by reading a quote I read every morning:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Sure, it is corny for some - but I have lived my life this way - and will continue to do so. Others told me not to get into the race in the 29th (it was not winnable, he is a poor candidate, etcera), but I could make a difference there. And I did. It is up to the arbitrator to decide if I am right or wrong.

I am trying to go back to my life - without all of this insanity. If you want to learn more, you look at the site and you decide.

Do I want Eric to win? When all is said and done, yes. I think the District will be better served, especially with a Democrat in the seat rather than a Republican, with a Democratic House. Eric has begun to build relationships with Clinton and Spitzer and these are very important in solving the crushing tax problems that is choaking the life out of the Southern Tier.

So, while I am adamant about this issue in defending my good name, I truly believe you should vote for Massa.

And it is not because of the win bonus (because remember, Rottenchester is making a claim I will not get it), it is because the country has been in the wrong direction - and more Democrats the better.

My only comment to Eric - stop saying you are not a politician. You are.

I don't think this problem is going to cost Eric votes. Person A gets fired, he blames his boss. That's how most people are going to read it. Since the two non-bias polls show that Eric has only lost 1% or 2% between them, with all of the half-truths and lies Kuhl threw at him, I find it hard to see how this is going to do much.
Eric is too visible, has been working for almost 24 month, and as I said his numbers have dropped ever so little. I know he says it's a horse race, and we need to make sure people vote, but I feel there are too many angry voters out there to pull off a Kuhl victory.
I volunteer in the PY Demo Headquarters. Twice in 2 weeks people have come in for signs and indicated that they are friends of Randy and are not democrats (One is a Republican and one is a Conservative). They are both voting against Kuhl.
I predict a 52.7-47.3 Massa victory.

Rich, you're probably right that this won't have a significant impact. There's just not a lot there from the perspective of political damage.

Also, I have to admire the sheer balls of anyone whose election predictions have a decimal place in them. Perhaps you can refine it to the hundreths place by Monday night.

Wow - that is a lot of paper. I'm glad this won't impact the election!

However, I see Massa swears to his allegations "on personal knowledge" or in layman's terms, swears to be an actual eye witness. Either he did witness these events, in which case I ask why he did nothing about them from the first - or report them to authorities, or else he did not witness them and his swearing to have personal knowledge is false. Either result worries me; is anyone else concerned with this?

Keith, Massa swore that
The contents of this affidavit are true to my knowledge, except as to the matters herein stated to be alleged on information and belief, and as to those matters, I believe them to be true.He did not swear to being an eyewitness, nor claim that he was.

We have a guy over here in Cattaraugus County who is trying to turn this into scandal and connect it to John Kerry Campaign! Just can't get it thru his head that there is nothing there.

The connection between Dickert and Kerry ended in June, 2004. Last time I checked my watch, it was 2006.

Hi Rottenchester - I appreciate the confusion, since it is legalease, but "true to my knowledge" in a legal document means first-person eyewitness knowledge, not hearsay or rumor. Also, I note that none of his statements are "stated to be alleged on information and belief", so that really would not apply, right?

Keith, again, IANAL, but swearing to something that is ultimately ruled hearsay can't be the same as lying, otherwise most witnesses testifying in court cases would be liars.

Your original comment posed an either-or (he lied, or he saw it in person and should have reported it). That's a false choice because there's a third possibility: he believes it to be true based on evidence he saw (e.g., alcohol in a fridge, a piece of campaign literature) plus his interpretation of the circumstances and perhaps what others told him. That third possibility looks like what's going on here. I think he put 2 and 2 together for some of the accusations in the affidavit. Will a judge or arbitrator ultimately rule that inadmissible? Perhaps. Is it a lie? No.

The purpose of this post was to see if there's any political poison in Dickert's web release. I stand by my view that there's not.