We've always assumed that The Dallas Morning News' white-on-rice coverage of the Museum Tower dust-up has been the product of good shoe-leather reporting on the part of Steve Thompson and Gary Jacobson: combing through open records, studying up on the arcane world of public pensions, developing sources on the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund Board, etc.
The Dallas Police and Fire Pension System has another theory. They're accusing Thompson of surreptitiously recording private meetings with their attorneys.
According to documents filed yesterday in Dallas County District Court, Thompson left a digital recorder in the board room following the adjournment of an April 11 board meeting. Thompson left, but the device continued recording in his absence, picking up "privileged and confidential attorney/client communication."
The pension system seems pretty certain on that part. What they don't have quite nailed down, but what they think they can establish, is that Thompson uploaded the illegal recording to his computer before destroying the original. But they can only prove that if Thompson is compelled to give a deposition, which is exactly what their attorneys are asking Judge Martin Lowy to do.
"The Petition was filed in order to determine if there is good cause to file a lawsuit regarding this matter -- a decision that the System takes seriously," the organization said in a statement. "The System has a duty to protect the retirement benefits of its members - active and retired Dallas Police and Fire employees and beneficiaries."
Among the questions the things they hope to shed light on: how Thompson came to leave the recorder in the board room; what he did with the recording after he'd retrieved it; and whether Thompson or any other Morning News reporters make a habit of planting digital recorders in closed-door meetings.
Thompson's boss, Morning News editor Bob Mong, says there's a simple explanation for all this. "Steve forgot his recorder that day, and it hit him after leaving the building that he had left it," he explained in an email on Tuesday. "He immediately called the pension system's spokeswoman to let her know he had inadvertently left the recorder, and she was the one who retrieved it."
Seems reasonable enough, but the explanation doesn't satisfy the pension system, which is suspicious enough of Thompson's motives to consider taking legal action. We shall see. In the meantime, it's worth remembering that the pension system has repeatedly shown that it has a very thin skin and a history of doing things that seem designed to compound its own PR woes.