Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Life Among the Sociopaths,* Part I

(*with apologies to Shirley Jackson.)


In February 1989, I was hired as an Assistant Attorney General in the Water Unit, in the Colorado Department of Law. Although a newbie, I was assigned to represent three state agencies opposing the huge application of American Water Development, Inc. ("AWDI") for water rights from the aquifers of the San Luis Valley.

The federal government had filed a motion to preempt state law in the Closed Basin Project, and was supported by the opposers, local well owners represented by David Robbins and John Carlson.   Although we were all technically on the same side--opposing AWDI--this motion was not adverse to AWDI. It was adverse to the State, specifically my client the State Engineer. I realized, later, that Robbins and Carlson were trying to forestall any rule the State Engineer might develop which would require their clients to deepen their wells. The water court had told the State Engineer, Jeris Danielson, in a previous case (AZT) that he must consider imposing such a rule.

The Closed Basin project wells are very shallow. If these wells could be insulated, as a matter of federal law, from state rules requiring them to be deepened, the opposers' own shallow wells surrounding the project would also be protected "as a matter of topographical fact," as attorney John Carlson put it.

I got permission to file a brief late, and got the feds' motion dismissed on the basis that there was no conflict between the federal and state laws, so the issue of pre-emption could not be reached.   I received warm praise from Colorado Attorney General Duane Woodard.

I then set up a friendly meeting with David Robbins to discuss the AWDI case with him.   Robbins had, at that point, spent three years doing nothing but discovery (generating fees, in other words).  He indicated that he had been unhappy to "just be served with a piece of paper" (my brief). I asked if he had considered filing a motion for summary judgment to dispose of AWDI's claim for tributary groundwater, based on speculation.  A judge in Water Division 4 had recently dismissed the application of another private entity for water rights (NECO) as speculative, because it had no contracts to provide water service anywhere.  The same was true of AWDI.

Robbins's face got flushed.  He backed me up against a wall in his office, yelling threats against Jeri Danielson and shaking his finger in my face.  I pushed him away and said, "You are not to make threats against my client," and left.

Right around that time there was a bill pending to abolish the 100-year-old office of State Engineer. That failed. Danielson believed Robbins was behind it.

Robbins began meeting with my clients and supervisors behind my back. I learned about one meeting he set up with Bill McDonald, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, to discuss AWDI.  I wrote Robbins a letter telling him he  could not meet with my client without my consent, and that I planned to be present.  When I arrived, however, the receptionist told me they had "rescheduled" for another location, not saying where.  Robbins also, along with attorney Bill Paddock, set up a meeting with the Division Engineer for Water Division 3, Steve Vandiver, to "prepare him for his deposition" to be taken by AWDI. Vandiver was, again, my client. When I objected, I was begrudgingly told I could attend!  Robbins then invited Vandiver to a Superbowl party at his home in Park Hill in January 1990.  He did not invite me.   I learned Robbins had had discussions about the case with the director of the Division of Wildlife, Perry Olson, also my client.

One meeting, at which the State Engineer's modeler DeWayne Schroeder made a presentation to the opposers and their attorneys of his hydrological model in the San Luis Valley, turned into a feeding frenzy. Robbins and Paddock and their clients were yelling at Jeris and Schroeder, with me ineffectually trying to mediate. Sometime after my meeting with Robbins in his office, I accidentally saw a phone message on my supervisor Lois Witte's desk that Robbins had set up a meeting to discuss AWDI with Attorney General Duane Woodard. I was the attorney on the case, and didn't know about it. I showed up (with my co-worker Wendy Weiss), and Robbins seemed taken aback. He never mentioned AWDI, but babbled to Duane about the Arkansas River litigation. At yet another meeting, which Wendy also attended, we were sitting around a small table with the other attorneys, and John Carlson, Robbins's co-counsel, who represented the San Luis Valley Water Users Association, came at me shouting threats, and pounding his fist on the table.

 The meetings Robbins had with my clients behind my back were, of course, a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, but I never filed a grievance--I knew nothing about the process and had no yardstick for knowing when one actually did that.

But I should have, because what this was was the beginning of a big campaign against me personally, for innocently suggesting something which would have ended the case--and stopped Robbins's meter running.  I was prohibited from filing this motion myself: Woodard summoned me to a private meeting at which he instructed me not to file any motions in the case--just to "let the sleeping giant lie."  He blasted Jeris Danielson, the client of our office, and told me how Danielson had alienated Roy Romer, Chips Barry, etc. I was astounded, since his instruction that I not exercise my independent judgment in the case was unethical, and he was telling me to ignore and even subvert the needs of our client.

I became aware that meetings were being held about AWDI among Lois Witte, the deputy attorney general for the Natural Resources section; Attorney General Woodard; Chips Barry, the director of the Dept. of Natural Resources; legislators from the San Luis Valley; David Robbins; and possibly Gov. Romer. I, the attorney on the case, was not invited to any of these meetings. I realized with growing discomfort that they must be talking about ME.   A new First Assistant was appointed, Linda White, who was assigned to "supervise" me in AWDI, although I had won on everything I'd done in the case. I began to be summoned into Lois's office and reamed by her, for no reason. She would abuse and berate me behind closed doors, saying there were "complaints" that I was "causing problems in the case."  I asked her what was being said and what she meant, and she would not tell me.  She began summoning me away peremptorily from meetings with clients and research in the library, simply to harass me in her office.  

I had worked as a geophysicist before going to law school, and was a physics major at Cornell.  Thus, I had gotten a lot of positive attention from the powerful males who were our clients, the heads of state agencies. Once Linda--who had no experience in groundwater--came on the case, however, I started being left out of the loop, as she asserted herself. I believed (and still do) that she and Lois were both afflicted by jealousy. As self-centered as it sounds, I think professional jealousy is a uniquely female pathology, a conditioned response to a threat posed by other females, although I have been able to find nothing about it in the psychological literature.

In a nutshell, I was removed from the case by Linda and Lois, and ultimately fired from my job, without ever any notice of what had been said about me, or any opportunity to respond. I had an almost 100% "win" record in my trials. I believed then that it was solely Linda and Lois doing this, but in latter years have realized I did not reach all the way back to the root cause. That was David Robbins, who sent me down this road I could never get off of. I "caused problems in the case" by recognizing that summary judgment was available. I did not know I was not supposed to actually be functioning as an attorney and exercising my independent judgment on behalf of my clients.

After I was fired I filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General's people. The events with Robbins are not emphasized, and he was not a defendant, because I did not put two and two together at that time. But in April 2006, when I saw Robbins at the first of the Animas-La Plata trials in Durango, he came over to shake my hand and gave me a searching, apologetic look. I knew then that he was at the bottom of my travails at the Attorney General's office.

Robbins's malicious interference with my life and prospects did not end with AWDI. There is more, although each time I did not recognize that it was this sociopath pulling the strings.

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