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Washington Blade editor: Lawyers for DNC chief of staff tried to intimidate me

by Michael Rogers and Nick Langewis

A scathing editorial to be printed in this Friday's Washington Blade will claim that attorneys representing Leah Daughtry, chief of staff of the Democratic National Committee, attempted to intimidate the paper's editor and publisher over its reporting on an ongoing discrimination lawsuit, PageOneQ has learned.

As earlier reported, a suit was filed against the DNC by former LGBT outreach director Donald Hitchcock, alleging harassment and retaliation by top DNC staff, including Daughtry and Chairman Howard Dean. Hitchcock claims that Daughtry and Dean held him responsible for criticism of the DNC's LGBT outreach efforts by his partner, Democratic consultant Paul Yandura. Included in Yandura's criticisms were public statements urging gays to reconsider giving money to the DNC.

Over one-third of the 900+ word editorial, titled Do the Wrong Thing, is about the visit of two attorneys representing Daughtry to the Blade offices for a meeting with editor Kevin Naff and publisher Lynne Brown.

Naff writes that he "got a taste of the Democratic wrath last month, after criticizing DNC Chair Howard Dean and his chief of staff, Leah Daughtry, in an editorial." Naff had written about what he called an insufficient Democratic response to comments against the equitable treatment of openly gay military members made by former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Peter Pace.

According to Naff, Daughtry responded to the editorial by sending two lawyers to confront him and Blade publisher Lynne Brown, lodging what Naff calls "red-faced cursing and threatening of lawsuits." While the lawyers said they represented Daughtry and not the DNC, Naff writes that DNC officials have nonetheless "gloated behind the scenes" that the incident compelled the Blade to stop writing about the Hitchcock suit.

Contacted by PageOneQ, attorney Charlie Kimmett, one of the two lawyers representing Daughtry at the meeting said "the meeting we attended was not at all contentious." Asked if there was cursing at the meeting by himself or his colleague Tom Connolly, as was claimed by Naff, Kimmett claimed there was "absolutely no cursing at the meeting."

Kimmett and Connolly are with the law firm Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, LLP. According to the firm's website, the practice is "nationally recognized for its telecommunications, technology, litigation, appellate and legislative practices." Both Connolly's and Kimmett's firm biographies list litigation and corporate investigations as their areas of focus, with Kimmett also listing white collar defense. Connolly is the head of the firm's litigation practice.

Kimmett told PageOneQ that the visit he and Connolly paid to Naff's office was not related to the Hitchcock case and that they were not representatives of the Democratic National Committee or the case's named defendants. In the lawsuit, attorney Joe Sandler represents the DNC.

"This is another effort to escape accountability," Hitchcock's attorney Lynne Bernabei said earlier today. "These statements are made from the same whole cloth that has Howard Dean lying to the LGBT community about what he will support and then betraying that trust in back rooms."

Explaining that he will not be intimidated by the visit and meeting, Naff writes: "Of course, to suggest that the Blade would abandon a story because a couple of angry lawyers made a scene in the lobby constitutes wishful thinking. One thing every journalist learns early on is that when people start yelling and making threats, that means you're onto something."

Contacted by PageOneQ for comment, DNC spokesman Damien LaVera explained that the Committee does not comment on current litigation.

The entire editorial will be posted late Thursday evening or early Friday morning at the Washington Blade website:


Originally published on Wednesday March 12, 2008.

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