Rambo Justice

Are bad-boy lawyers Bill Brewer and John Bickel building a bridge to Dallas' minority communities, or trying to sell them one?

Dr. Shirley Ison-Newsome, an African-American, had been chief of staff under Gonzalez's predecessor, Chad Woolery, sharing power with Gonzalez, who was then deputy superintendent. There was no love lost between the two women, and Gonzalez, after becoming superintendent, demoted Ison-Newsome twice, busting her down to high school principal last June and ignoring the protests of black leaders and trustees.

Within a week, new allegations arose against Ison-Newsome, suggesting she had deviated from district policy by authorizing that two $3,000 bathrooms be built in and around her offices. Dubbed "Pottygate" by the media, Gonzalez instituted disciplinary proceedings against Ison-Newsome, who later sued the district for defamation.

The Storefront agreed to represent Ison-Newsome pro bono--a mystery to many who believed that a woman making $96,000 a year could afford her own counsel. There seemed a decided political flavoring to the decision--Ison-Newsome was referred by another Storefront client, former Townview Magnet executive principal Ora Lee Watson, who, according to John Bickel, was referred by John Wiley Price.

In the process of evaluating her case, says Brewer, they "looked at whether there was statistical as well as anecdotal evidence that would support a consistent pattern of discrimination of black people at DISD." Given the large number of blacks at the highest levels of the administration, "it was a hard case to prove." But when Ison-Newsome convinced Harden to sign an affidavit on her behalf, that pattern, Brewer says, began to fall into place.

At 42, Harden is soft-spoken, respectful, almost boyishly innocent--only his closely cropped beard lends authority to his appearance. He is not a political man and recoils at the notion that he is any kind of symbol for African-Americans. When he came to Bill Brewer's home in late August, he told a chilling tale of how he himself had become the target of Yvonne Gonzalez's paranoia. What's more, he had tapes--lots of them--that he had recorded surreptitiously, and that helped substantiate much of what he said.

When Gonzalez was deputy superintendent and married, Harden claims, she made sexual advances toward him, though he refuses to say whether he ever succumbed to them. A source close to Harden, however, confirms that he has detailed two sexual encounters with Gonzalez, the first taking place in a DISD office, the second in a hotel room where he resisted her overtures and left. Gonzalez, through her attorney, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Despite this rejection, Harden continued his working relationship with Gonzalez. But his loyalty was put to the test last July 31, he says, when she asked him to lie for her during a news conference about her office renovations, which had cost $90,000--not the $12,000 she had told the media. Harden says he did as he was asked and said the superintendent had no knowledge of their cost. "After the press conference was over," Harden claims, "I went back to her office and told her I would never lie for her again."

Ten days later, he found a tracking device on his car. Someone had been tailing him for reasons that were not clear to him. The next day, he informed Gonzalez of what he had found. To Harden's surprise, she held a press conference that evening, claiming she had found evidence of at least five tracking devices on DISD cars, and a security firm she had hired believed her own office had been bugged. But no amount of subterfuge or surveillance would deter her from her crime-busting ways. By August, the DISD investigation had already netted 13 federal indictments, all involving personnel in Harden's management division.

By August 20, Harden says, word had gotten back to him. The superintendent wanted him gone. She was in possession of certain investigative reports, he was told, that held him accountable for many of the district's financial improprieties. Harden began carrying around a hidden recorder, secretly taping top administrators--Gonzalez and her special counsel Marcos Ronquillo, assistant superintendents Robert Payton and Robby Collins--about their intentions. Harden claims he had no intention of being forced out--which is what brought him to Bill Brewer's house in the first place.

Quietly, the Storefront filed its first Harden lawsuit, using it more as a tool to discover who placed the tracking device on Harden's car. When depositions revealed that the individual responsible for trailing Harden was Yvonne Gonzalez herself, Bickel & Brewer was ready to strike.

On September 8, Harden committed his first public act of defiance. He signed an affidavit supporting Shirley Ison-Newsome, swearing under oath that Gonzalez, in essence, manufactured the scandal over the Ison-Newsome restroom construction to avoid media scrutiny on her own office-renovation boondoggle.

On September 12, Bickel & Brewer struck again, this time suing Yvonne Gonzalez individually (coincidentally, in Judge Marshall's court) and alleging invasion of privacy, slander, and perhaps most damaging of all, sexual harassment. The media seized upon these pleadings, which read like a dime-store novel: "[Harden] was tired of having Gonzalez whisper lewd comments into his ear during important meetings." Harden, the hero of the tale, was painted in the most glowing of terms: "...there was no evidence that Harden was anything other than the best CFO DISD ever had." The villainess, on the other hand, was evil incarnate: "Unfortunately, the more Harden resisted, unbeknownst to Harden, the more obsessed Gonzalez became."

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