Former SAIF CEO Brenda Rocklin has asked the Oregon Department of Justice to pay for her legal expenses related to the lawsuit brought by John Plotkin over his recent termination from the agency. Rocklin's attorneys, the Harrang Long Law Firm, sent a "request for defense and indemnity" to the Oregon Department of Justice on August 5th. Rocklin is claiming that the state should pay the costs of her private defense team because she was simply "volunteering her services to the State of Oregon upon its request," when she "conferred with SAIF executives and directors on what to do with then-CEO John Plotkin."
I have not seen the letter, but according to The Oregonian, Rocklin's attorneys "say she got involved when Cathy Travis, chair of the SAIF board, reached out to Rocklin for advice."
Frankly, I am not sure I would admit that I provided any advice in the handling of the Plotkin termination, given what a colossally stupid and incompetent clustermess it turned out to be. (I continue to use the phrase "clustermess", borrowed from my friend Joe Paduda, even though I have a far, far better term that would describe this situation. Unfortunately non-optional social conventions prevent me from using it. Feel free to mentally insert that other phrase whenever you see the word "clustermess".) It also seems to me that any advice proffered should have included the phrase "I can't help you. State law likely forbids my involvement". I am not sure if that was included or not. We've seen no evidence of that to date.
Other potentially good advice: "Has anyone discussed this with John?", or "You may want to hire an independent firm to handle that investigation, so that a holy crapfest won't ensue when you completely bung it up".
It is likely prudent not to opine at this juncture as to the actual involvement of Rocklin in the Plotkin affair, but rather let the plethora of documents released as public records speak for themselves. The entire matter will ultimately be determined by a court of law. Let us assume, for the moment however, that Rocklin's claims are completely accurate, and that she had absolutely no involvement in Plotkin's termination until that fateful day Cathy Travis reached out to her to ask "whatever shall we do?".
If that is indeed the case, then several people have some splainin' to do. For starters, it would indicate that the notes from the initial SAIF HR "investigation" of Plotkin are even more wildly inaccurate and incorrect than originally believed. Those people saying they dined with Rocklin and discussed Plotkin prior to Travis' plea are obviously lying or misquoted. Either way it elevates what was generally thought of as simply an incompetent investigation process to one that is almost criminal in nature. If Rocklin did not get involved until Cathy Travis contacted her as The Oregonian article indicates, which we know was in early May, then other people are lying.
Someone should probably be going to jail for that.
The letter sent to DOJ requesting financial acceptance of Rocklin's defense apparently states, "Many of Mr. Plotkin's allegations regarding Ms. Rocklin's statements, activities and motivations are false, but it is true that various SAIF officials initiated contact with Ms. Rocklin to seek her advice and counsel in connection with concerns that had been raised about Mr. Plotkin by other SAIF employees." Fair enough, but then again, that means that all this helping out couldn't have begun until and after the time of the Cathy Travis reach out. After all, responsible, transparent executives would not supersede their own Board Chairperson in contacting a former agency CEO for her much needed wisdom, I'm sure. That leaves a couple months of recorded meals, emails and many, many, many, many phone calls that require thorough explanation.
I reported on June 23rd that records show Rocklin engaged in well over 100 calls with certain players in the Plotkin affair from the time she left the agency up to and through his termination. Those records indicate she had numerous calls with VP of Operations and HR Ryan Fleming, including at least 3 on the day Plotkin first learned the Board wanted him gone. We can only speculate as to what the content of that days calls were like. "He didn't resign Brenda and we are reaching out again. Whatever shall we do now?"
At least 95 of those calls during Plotkin's short reign were with then VP Chris Davie, with some of them extending beyond 1 hour in duration.
It seems to me that for Plotkin's lawyers, the issue will very quickly focus on what those calls were concerning. For all of those that occurred prior to the "Cathy Travis reach out", what was the topic of all those calls? What could she and Chris Davie have possibly been discussing? That needs to come out in court, and it will need to be a credible explanation in order to substantiate her claims of late involvement only at the request of SAIF itself.
And even then, her claims do not explain why she chose to "volunteer her services", when the law suggests she might best have chosen otherwise.
Rocklin has strong ties to DOJ, and with the incestuous relationship of the Oregon political machine, I will not be surprised if they agree to let the taxpayers pick up her defense tab. But I ask, If that happens, what do they do if the court finds she did indeed violate state law by meddling in her former agency's affairs? Does that mean the state will have actively paid to defend what amounts to criminal activity? And to be clear, by "state" we probably mean "SAIF", since that agency will be billed with all the final settlement expenses.
Does that sound right to anyone at all (outside the narrow corridors and minds of certain Oregon bureaucracies)?
Perhaps a better solution, given the preponderance of recorded meals, emails and many, many, many, many phone calls, would be for Rocklin to pay her own legal defense costs. If it is found that Plotkin has alleged falsehoods, that he was wrong, that she did not endeavor to manipulate her former agency in violation of state law, then she could appeal to DOJ for reimbursement from the travesty of injustice thrust upon her. That would seem fair.
But this is Kitzhaber country. They don't seem to do fair. And for the employees of SAIF; if DOJ agrees to pay for Ms. Rocklin's defense without qualifications and with no questions asked, then you will again be working on her behalf, knowing her annual $234,000 PERS retirement is safe, secure, protected and unencumbered, thanks in part to your dedicated efforts.
And that, depending on final court determinations, could be the biggest clustermess of them all.
For a list of Bob's other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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