United States District Court, Washington, D.C. – If Friday morning’s pre-trial hearing is indicative of the drama that Ed Schultz‘s upcoming trial is going to entail, we’re in for a roller coaster ride that may be particularly nauseating for the MSNBC host.
Schultz arrived to the federal courthouse flanked by three attorneys. His attire matched his surly mood. Who needs this hassle? He wore a wrinkled black suit over his fleshy frame, with a white shirt and a french blue patterned tie with circles. The camera is said to add 10 pounds, but Schultz actually appears fatter in person.
His demeanor: glum.
And why wouldn’t it be? Schultz is being sued by Michael Queen, a producer and sound engineer for NBC who claims the host owes him money for helping him create and land “The Ed Show” on MSNBC. The case is a jury trial that begins May 11. The judge is Beryl Howell, a tough Obama appointee who occasionally gets so irate that she looks like she may blow fiery smoke into the courtroom. She dressed in a typical black gown. Her face was makeup free. Her neck-length hair has no particular style.
This isn’t her first rodeo with this case. She issued a summary judgment in favor of Schultz in 2012. Queen appealed and won and here we are–back in her courtroom to hash out the tedious details of whether Schultz actually owes this guy dough. In 2014, the appeals court upheld her rejection of the breach of contract claim, but said Queen is entitled to a trial on breach of partnership.
Howell, like Schultz, possessed enough venom to last her all day long. At different junctures, Schultz’s attorneys had to display the universal “shhh” sign to their lips to get their furious client under control.
“I’ve never seen such vitriol,” the judge said as the proceedings began. “The vitriol has been, to put it mildly, unseemly — in my mind, gratuitous — and overshadows some of the merits of whatever legal claims are being made.”
She tried to make nice. “We’re all going to be living together during the trial,” she said. “Let’s make it a pleasant experience.”
While berating both sides for a lack of civility, Howell, something of a man-eater, repeatedly berated and yelled at Queen’s lawyers, who included the mild-mannered Steven Teppler, the kind-eyed Frazer Walton Jr. and F. Catfish Abbott, the country trial lawyer straight out of central casting.
“I’m considering everything, Mr. Teppler,” the judge said through clenched teeth after the lawyer made a rather mild remark about Schultz. She then started punching her words with rage: “I will NOT HAVE just off the cuff disparaging remarks. NOT IN MY COURT.”
Teppler replied meekly, “I didn’t mean to do that.”
Howell scolded, “Then WATCH yourself.”
Dripping sarcasm was her M.O.
“Have you ever tried a case in the District of Columbia?” she snapped at Catfish. “You won’t need your scales of justice ever in this trial.”
Catfish was pushing her patience. He wanted to bring a replica of the scales of justice and a large blowup of lady justice to the courtroom.
“Condescending use of props?” she asked rhetorically. “Really not appropriate in my court.”
Howell announced 11 agenda items for the day.
Schultz’s head attorney, John Hayes, added another one. It concerned reporter Evan Gahr, who has been covering the trial for The Daily Caller. Hayes said Gahr had contacted at least one person from Schultz’s witness list.
“I will raise that this morning,” said Hayes. “I think it’s inappropriate.”
During the first intermission Gahr made his move. Schultz and Hayes were standing in the well of the court — Gahr was in the spectators’ area with me.
Hayes had told the judge that he wanted to discuss contacts by this Evan Gahr “gentleman” (trying to obscure that he is a reporter) to “at least one witness.”
So Gahr yelled, “Mr. Hayes, just so you don’t lie about me again I contacted the witnesses on my own volition.”
Hayes and Schultz immediately turned their back and walked further away. They did not even make eye contact with Gahr.
Just in case things weren’t already tense enough, Gahr shouted a question at Schultz: “Ed, do you still think Chris Matthews spits while he talks?” (He was referring to an email exchange Schultz had with Queen concerning Matthews’ saliva-addled speaking habits.)
Schultz tilted his head down and grinned broadly.
Before the day was done, Hayes requested a bench meeting, complete with a noise machine, to discuss Gahr. He ultimately expressed in open court that he was “concerned” about Gahr contacting witnesses for the defense — namely MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter.
“I received an email from Mr. Gahr asking about Mr. Alter,” Hayes told the judge. “I deleted the email. Jonathan Alter is on our witness list. Evan Gahr reached out to Alter. I want to make the court aware of it. I’m a little concerned.”
According to courtroom personnel, Hayes told Howell that he asked Gahr to stop asking questions, but that he kept asking questions. He also claimed Gahr walked into the dock of the courtroom to pose his questions. Since I was a witness to the whole thing, I can confirm that no one said anything to Gahr when he publicly questioned them — and Gahr never walked beyond the spectator’s area.
During the bench meeting, Howell told Hayes she would take care of it.
Enter the Marshall’s service.
When Gahr left with everyone else for lunch, a court security officer stopped him in the vestibule and asked if he was a reporter. He said yes. The officer asked for a press pass. Gahr told him he did not have one. But he could Google his articles.
Gahr’s questioner, a black man, medium height, identified himself as someone from the threat assessment unit. But Gahr said he concluded, “I don’t see any threat here.”
Gahr was allowed to reenter the courtroom.
Nonetheless, Judge Howell seemed to entertain the possibility that she may issue a gag order for witnesses.
She would probably be doing Alter, slated to take the stand for Schultz, a favor. Last week, Alter soiled himself when he responded to questions from The Mirror with a series of clumsy dodges, finally spiraling into the depths of megalomania.
But the notion of an MSNBC personality asking a judge to gag witnesses should be discomfiting to everyone else.
Howell ultimately seemed irritated that Hayes raised the issue without a question. “Are you asking for a gag order?” she asked angrily. “Are you thinking this is going to affect jury selection?”
Hayes replied no: “I’m just alerting the court that it’s going on.”
For the umpteenth time in the day, Howell seethed.
The purpose of the pre-trial was to determine such things as jury selection procedures, sanctions filed by each legal team, witness objections, exhibit issues and the length of the trial.
Each side agreed the trial will last approximately two days with the flexibility of one week and a half to include jury selection. Each side agreed to a 45-minute opening statement.
There will be 30 potential jurors, 14 will be chosen. The judge will handle the questioning of the jurors — which should be a real hoot if she asks what Hayes wants her to, which is…do you read The Daily Caller?
Queen, like Schultz, is a character.
He’s got longish dark blonde hair. His personality is calm and laid back like Kato Kaelin — O.J. Simpson‘s roommate who testified at his murder trial. His attire was more showy than Schultz’s: he wore a black suit with really wide pinstripes and a canary yellow patterned tie.
At different points during the pre-trial, a security guard pointedly scolded the only two reporters in the courtroom — me and Gahr.
Just before 11 a.m., the guard noticed I had my cell phone. Because I have a congressional press pass, I did not have to turn it in to the courthouse. He asked if I was a lawyer. I told him I was a reporter. Upon hearing the word “reporter,” his entire face contorted into a scowl and he motioned for me to come with him.
He proceeded to lecture me about the rules of the court. He repeatedly referred to me like I was a child by calling me “young lady.”
He said, “Young lady, you are not to record the hearing,” (I wasn’t. But I was also apparently not supposed to talk while he was talking. He held up a pointer finger to order me to stay quiet while he was talking.) “Young lady, you need to turn your phone off by 11 a.m.” he said. I replied, “Fine, I’ll turn it off now.”
Once back in the courtroom, I asked my coworker in a whisper what I missed while the guard was wasting my time. Again he scolded us, insisting we were not to talk while the judge was speaking. We improvised and started passing notes.
When it came time to discuss depositions and the number of people who will testify, Howell, once again, grew contemptuous. She voiced repeatedly how protective she was going to be of the jury’s time.
“Both sides submitted lengthy portions of deposition,” she said. Explaining that some witnesses might appear by video and in person, she asked incredulously, “Do I have this right?”
She said she was inclined to let the lawyers screw themselves over by overcomplicating the process.
“I could give you all the rope you need to hang yourselves in front of this jury,” she said. “I could do that, but I need to let you hang yourselves.”
She asked both sides to submit all deposition objections by 5 p.m Wednesday.
In the end, all sanctions against opposing sides were denied. But both Schultz and Queen had to testify before the judge made her calls.
Some of the motions, however, were accepted. For example, no one shall refer to the current medical condition of Schultz’s wife, Wendy. In addition, neither side will bring up Schultz’s divorce from the 90s, which included a temporary protective order against Schultz — he claims it was unrelated to domestic violence.
One of the potential sanctions against the defendant involved Schultz destroying emails that were relevant to the case. Asked how may email accounts he has, Schultz said he has one personal account that he used to communicate with Queen: firstname.lastname@example.org. He said it was the only email he has ever used since 1996.
Schultz said repeatedly and unequivocally in depositions and on Friday that the only email account he has ever used is email@example.com.
But the contact section of his wegoted.com says “Email Ed: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
This is not a harmless assertion, either. It was the whole basis for his claim that he didn’t withhold relevant emails from Queen.
(Neither side responded to email inquiries about it Sunday night.)
Asked if he ever used anyone else’s email to send something, Schultz replied testily, “I do not use anyone else’s email account.”
Queen’s lawyer asked if he ever destroys his emails.
“I periodically delete emails because of the business I’m in because I get hundreds of emails a day,” he explained. “I make it a practice of deleting them. The reason is because of who I am. I’m visible and I’ve been hacked numerous times. In fact, I’ve been hacked within the last couple of months.”
He did eventually change his practice of deleting emails. “I didn’t start saving emails until I found out I was being sued,” he said. “He [Queen] lawyered up within six months of meeting me.”
In dispute is the date Schultz believed he needed to start saving them. Queen’s lawyers said March 3, 2008 was when he should have started saving them. The judge severely disagreed. “The court finds that date as a litigation trigger laughable,” snapped Howell. “Laughable!” she repeated. “Laughable!” she howled.
Asked if he’s ever been sued before, Schultz paused and said, “I need some time to answer that. I’ve been through a divorce. Is that a lawsuit?”
Sometime after 3 p.m., Schultz’s lawyers asked the judge if they could excuse him by 3:45 p.m. because he needed to get to the MSNBC studio. The judge obliged.
On his way out of the courtroom, The Mirror asked the Fox News wannabe and Oprah basher, “Mr. Schultz, how do you think the day went?” The host kept right on walking. A few seconds later he returned. “You should at least introduce yourself when asking a question,” he said. “Who are you?”
I informed him who I was and where I worked. In return came the world’s biggest eye roll.
As Schultz’s attorney was leaving, I asked about his concerns with Gahr. “What is wrong with a reporter reaching out to witnesses to ask questions?” He replied, “I’m not answering that.”
Before Howell concluded, she took the lawyers through the schedule of a day in her courtroom. She begins promptly at 9:15 a.m. She wants the attorneys there at 9 a.m. She takes a break at 11 a.m. At 12:30 or 1 she breaks for lunch. She takes a 10-minute break at 3 p.m. She stops at 5 or 5:30 p.m.
That timeframe means that Schultz will miss his show.
God help them if they ask her to shorten her day.