Sunday, August 30, 2009

TLC: Thus Spake The Alter Ego ...

Call me an unrepentant Judas, I suppose, for taking a few hours one day this past week to read the IRS 990s on line submitted by the Trial Lawyers College and the Spence Foundation. But I merely raised questions, (See, "The Wizard of Wyoming.") and, surprisingly, no one from the college has seen fit to respond here. But Zarathustra hath spoken. In a message to TLC alumni, Gerry Spence and new board president Jude Basile offer the following, reprinted below.

Perhaps all this is true. But there's a lot of money changing hands, and no real public paper trail. And there are reports that the very issues about which I wrote were raised at board meetings, costing some board members their seats at the council table. It's time to publicize the documents, including the lease. Or do we merely take on faith the words of a man building his own legacy and offering, for free mind you, a certain ranch, if only we contribute a little money. You see ...

Half truths are like half bricks, you can throw them twice as far, but invisible bricks only bear the weight of those prepared to take great leaps of faith. I wish the IRS were so kind with me when I report my income. But then if I claimed I received no rent, and then asserted that the rent I received was for expenses, people would look at me funny.

Spence is good. Subtle ad hominem works well for the already persuaded. But this sound and fury signifies little. When it comes to a former cattle ranch, we're entitled to ask: "Where's the beef?"

I'd love to here from John Nolte, Charles Abourezk, Garvin Isaacs, Joane Garcia-Colson. What's been going in paradise?

When Jesus summoned his disciples to a last supper, he didn't require them to eat off of monogrammed plates. Gerry Spence's trial lawyers college and a new wave of legal education? Maybe; maybe not. Two boards to serve purposes only one need do? Suspicious.

The Alter Ego Hath Spoken

Dear Tribe,


Questions have arisen lately about the Ranch, fundraising, The Spence Foundation, and TLC.

I was in the first TLC class of 1994. I was invited to be on staff in 1997, and the TLC Board in 1999. In the first few years of TLC, Gerry Spence paid for most, if not all the costs of operating TLC. The tuition charged was meager and did not cover costs. He had some initial contributions from some of the early board members but most of the expense was covered by him.

In early 1998, Tom Meitier also a 1994 graduate came up with the idea of having Gerry speak and raising money to help support TLC. This idea evolved into the Regional Seminars that TLC has today. Other Board members, promoted fundraising and Gerry went along with it. He was often reluctant to attend the fundraisers held at Regionals and TLC and expressed his reluctance. He did attend. We have raised money and it has helped continue the Mission of TLC. The ranch is a special place that as provided a place of opportunity for those who attend to look at themselves in a new way. Who we are as people is often examined. What we do both personally and professionally is examined. The ranch is located in a place of natural beauty, next to the Shoshone Indian Reservation. The ranch is unique and touches many who come to it.

. I am open to any questions raised by our tribe and will seek to be transparent in all we do.


Here is Gerry’s response to questions raised recently by Norm Pattis :

As some wise man observed -- a half truth is like half a brick. You canthrow it twice as far.

Here are some answers to the careless speculations of Mr. Pattis: TLC pays NO RENT on the entire ranch except the cost of operating the ranch and its upkeep on the buildings. In other words, TLC gets the free use of a multi-million dollar ranch for no rent, which also includes the extensive furnishings of the ranch and its lodge, the dorms and other lodging facilities, including the kitchen. Must be something wrong here, right?

I work most of a year every year without a salary of any kind. Imaging does the same -- no salary for her endless work to make the ranch function. This is a part of our philosophy. All our TLC staff, except the psychodramitists, work at their own expense without pay. So does our board. Must be something wrong here too.

We live in a one room cabin on the ranch. But that cabin is on our private land that adjoins the ranch and is not part of the foundation property. We charge no fee for the cabin's use, and it is used exclusively by us when we are at the ranch for TLC. That Spence and his wife would live in a small, one room cabin after having given up a spectacular ranch house to the college -- well, must be something wrong here too.

Yes, when the lease is up any additions put on the ranch will belong to the Spence Foundation, itself a non-profit entity from which Spence and his wife have never and will never get a penny. But TLC has a right to release the property for another twenty five years under the same terms and conditions. None of us, nor any of our children will be around at the conclusion of this lease. Even so, this ranch will NEVER return to Spence, his family, or anyone other than the non-profit foundation that has legal title to the same. At that time hopefully TLC will still be around and available to rent the ranch for another fifty years.

Gerry and Imaging Spence have never been paid a cent by TLC. Not one cent.Nor will they ever. The Spence Foundation does not receive a penny from TLC except the rent which equals the cost of the ranch's operation. In other words the rent is simply a reimbursement to the foundation of the costs the foundation has incurred during the year for the operation of the ranch. That includes taxes, the cost of the manager and his wife and other employees who keep the ranch operating. This also includes costs of repair and upkeep. Moreover, Spence nor his wife nor any member of his family are paid any sum for the operation of the Spence Foundation. ALL is a gift. Nor has there been a "spreading of one entity across two sets of books,"whatever that means. That acknowledged "suspicion" is a function of Mr.Pattis' extraordinary mind, not some imagined accounting scheme. But surely there must be something wrong here.

Yes, there are Spence family members who are members of both boards, namely Imaging and our son, Kent. The TLC board members also include Kent and Imaging on its board of seventeen members. Spence is now the CEO of the college and is not a member of the board. Imaging, last year, in the fourteenth year of the college, when the operation of the college was in serious crisis, was taken on the board on the motion of Bill Trine and with the unanimous approval of the board since her input on the actual operation of the ranch and the college was essential to the college's survival. Moreover, she designed and supervised the remodel of the kitchen and the Bear Creek house which was a mammoth task that stripped her of most of her available energy for most of this year.

Imaging runs this ranch. Kent has been a member of both boards for many years. He attended the first TLC class, has been instrumental in the college's growth and understands the philosophy of its founders. He is a full time resident of Jackson and is the only member of the board who is available year-round to oversee, from time to time, the requirements of the ranch. All other board members live in distant places so that, but for Kent, no one is present in Wyoming year round to make the necessary decisions from time to time required to keep the ranch in operation. Must certainly be something wrong here as well.

Jude Basil is a member of the Spence Foundation board. He is our new TLC president by a near unanimous choice of the board. Jude was chosen to be a member of the Spence Foundation because when Imaging and I are gone there should be someone from TLC on the foundation board to be certain that its interests are fully understood by the foundation.We do have the same accountants. The Sorensen firm has been our accountants for more than thirty years. They were our accountants when we set up our foundation, and when we established TLC. They know the ins and outs of our history. It would be simply stupid to hire other accountants who have no historical knowledge of the business of TLC and who would end up duplicating much of the work. If there were something wrong here the Sorensen firm would be the first to let us all know, as would our board.

Yes, TLC is in pretty good financial shape, that is to say, thankfully weare not like many non-profits who are in financial difficulty because they were invested in the stock market. We kept our money mostly in government bonds and did not suffer the financial set-backs of many non-profits. Something wrong there too I suppose.

Finally Mr. Pattis threw in the kitchen sink. There have been several members of our board who no longer are part of our organization -- two in over fifteen years I believe. For a bunch of trial lawyers who generally can't agree on anything, that seems like a pretty good record. While I regret greatly the loss of those two and miss them, their departure from TLC is hardly evidence of something wrong somewhere.

What is terribly wrong is that a man like Norm Pattis can use his acknowledged great skills to put together a series of half-truths that make a very honorable institution look like somebody's private scam. Mr. Pattis spent a mammoth amount of time and energy in undertaking his investigation and writing his piece. Would he have used the same energy to join us infighting for the rights of the people who need us in this country.

I spent a morning at our fifteenth year celebration with Mr. Pattis and a number of our other mutual friends. He had come all the way from the East coast to be with old TLC grads who loved the college enough to join us in our celebration. Mr. Pattis and I were within arm's length of each other for several hours of jolly remembrances and good times. Not once did he ask me a single question or discuss or show any interest in discussing the issues he has now dumped on the public, obviously with no other intent than to hurt TLC and its mission.

I have always admired most those who, when they have an issue with me, also have the courage to address it face to face. I agree with Mr. Pattis on one thing: I wouldn't give a nickel for that old fringed jacket of mine. But some think it has historical value, and perhaps the purchaser just wanted an excuse for donating to the college. We are attempting to raise enough money so that we will no longer be required to impose our fund-raising on our students, that is, to raise enough to endow our college permanently.

Now let me join with you and a host of TLC grads whose lives and practices have been changed forever because of the gifts given them by TLC, in celebrating where TLC finds itself today: First, this college belongs to every TLC grad who loves, supports and fights for its continued survival and growth. It does not belong to me or to my family or to any foundation except its own. We are on the brink of bursting into the mainstream of training America's trial lawyers for the ordinary citizen.

Yes, we will always have a few distracters, always those who cannot find in themselves the will to build rather than destroy, who find some kind of piteous pleasure in hurting rather than helping, and, at last, who simply crave to draw attention to themselves. We cannot change them. We can only endure them with the best love and understanding we can muster.