Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lawsuits . . . the saga continues

When we last left our merry band of chess volunteers, they had been fighting off two absurd lawsuits filed by Ray Parker and Sam Sloan, arising out of the RGCP postings of the "Fake Sam Sloan", who had been posting trash that was beyond the pale, even by usenet standards.

Incidently, I apologize to my eager readers, both of them, for the delay in part 2 of this analysis.  My father-in-law passed away, and I have been having to deal with the family obligations inherent in that.  I should also advise that I do not, and have never, represented USCF or any of the parties involved in this litigation.  The information posted has been gleened from pleadings in the cases and  forum posts, some of which are from the parties to the lawsuit.

As a further aside, I must confess that if I would be advising my clients not to post a word on the internet regarding the litigation.  The propensity of some of the actors to post about the litigation, while informative to me as a spectator, is amazing to me.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, so the parties should STFU.

In response to these lawsuits, the USCF retained a lawyer, who advised them to form a litigation committee of the EB to deal with the lawsuits.  This committee included every director except Polgar and Truong.  The committee and the lawyer asked Truong to provide (a) a sworn affidavit that he was not FSS (b) information about his IP addresses so that the allegations against him could be confirmed or denied and (c) information supporting his arguments that he was not at his computer when FSS was posting.

Truong, apparently on advice of counsel, provided two pay stubs and a flight confirmation in response to (c); he apparently did not provide any information regarding requests (a) or (b).

Shortly thereafter, emails between the litigation committee and counsel were published on the internet.  It was alleged in some quarters that the memos leaked, but USCF filed suit in California State Court alleging that persons unknown had hacked Randy Hough's email account, and taken the messages from it.  The suit was filed against John Does, which is apparently allowed in California.  USCF served subpoenas to trace the alleged hacker.

At this point, immediately before the annual meeting in Dallas; Susan Polgar filed her own lawsuit, against USCF, the other directors, Sam Sloan, Brian Lafferty; Jerry Hanken, Hal Bogner, Brian Mottershead, CCA, Chess Magnet Schools, the USCF's lawfirm, and the entire cast of Searching for Bobby Fischer.   The grandiosity of the allegations is matched only by their vagueness.  I can only say that, in my professional opinion, the complaint is very poorly drafted and provides the parties, and the reader virtually no information about what bad acts are being alleged, who did them, and how the parties worked together for the alleged conspiracy.  The allegations against the law firm are laughably bad.

It is also interesting, to say the least, that the lawsuit was filed by Ms. Polgar and not Mr. Truong.  Given that all the comments about Mr. Truong, one would expect him to be the plaintiff, or at the very least, one of two plaintiffs.  For the action to be filed on her behalf only is curious. 

The next major development was the amendment of the California action by USCF and Hough to specifically name Gregory Alexander and Susan Polgar as defendants.  Alexander had been the webmaster of the Chess Discussion forums. Apparently, the documents in response to the USCF subpoenas led them to Alexander as the user of the IP addresses used to access Hough's email account.

Both the Texas and California actions have been removed to Federal Court.

Lastly, USCF has filed an action in Illinois to remove Polgar and Truong from the board.  The filing contains documents linking Truong to IP addresses used to post the FSS posts.  As far as I know, there have been no further developments in the Illinois actions.

Most of the Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss in the Texas lawsuits.  Polgar has requested leave to file a counter-claim in the California action.  Gregory Alexander is representing himself in the San Francisco suit.  He has moved to dismiss the action against him.  In his motions he has made several admissions that may well prove to be highly embarrassing later.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Who Killed ChessUSA.Net?

As the chess world absorbed the news of the closure of ChessUSA blog, the mystery of who did it ricocheted around the chess forums like a bullet. Fingers first pointed towards the hated Susan Polgar. She said this:
I was just told that Mr. Steve Owens received a credible legal threat from an interested party in the upcoming 2009 USCF Executive Board election. I find this appalling. I do not agree with Mr. Owens’ view on many occasions but this is chess politics at its worst. This is wrong.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar
The President of the USCF rejected this, however. He issued this statement to the USCF’s Forums:
. . . Where did Susan say it was not her? She said it was "chess politics at its worst" and "This is wrong," but where did she deny that it was her?

Remember, when Brian Lafferty asked Susan and Paul on this Forum about February 2007 if they were married to each other, their response was to ignore the question and attack Brian. Most posters saw this reaction as a "no" answer to the question, but it was not. In May it was learned that they were married in December 2006, but this info was not in the June Chess Life and had it been, Paul might not have been elected, as many voters feel it is improper for one family to control two votes (half the number of votes necessary to pass a board motion). Susan and Paul subsequently denied trying to hide their marriage, and they were apparently correct that they didn't say they were not married to each other, just gave that impression without saying so.

Bill Goichberg
This was a most serious comparison. My response to this comparison was censored off the USCF’s Forums and no further rebuttal to this has appeared on that venue by anybody else. This is what I wrote:
Bill Goichberg, in the dishonest way that has become the staple of discussion of anything Polgar by USCF’s leaders, said about Susan’s first statement that “This was wrong” did not constitute a denial and compared her statement to her earlier statement in 2007 regarding her marriage. To be honestly comparable, she would have to said her marriage was “appalling”; “it is chess politics at its worst”; and “this is wrong”. In fact, in her statement on her marriage, she only said that she found Brian Lafferty’s question rude and insulting and she refused to answer it. Reasonable people would find some degree of gap between one statement and the other.

As for Steve's case, I can’t help but wonder how Susan's lawyer would handle a case that his client had just publicly and on the record labeled “appalling” and “wrong”. I’m no lawyer, but if I had to and if I was allowed, I bet that even I could defend Steve and win!
A few minutes later, he posted this:
I didn't say that it was Susan, only that she has not denied that it was her.

"Chess politics at its worst" is not a denial. "This is wrong" is not a denial.

I suppose it could be someone else described in "This party has silenced opposition in venues under their control -- and that is their right." There aren't many who fit that description, but there might be someone else out there who operates blogs or groups on which opposition is silenced.

Following is the last post Steve made before announcing the closing of his blog. Did this post cause Polgar or Truong to threaten legal action? I don't know for sure, but see no reason to rule out the possibility.

Bill Goichberg
Here is the post BG quoted.

The inhabitants at the USCF’s Forums leapt to the conclusion that Susan and/or Paul Truong were the murderers.
Steve, in your post on you stated (1) that the people concerned are "interested parties" in the Executive Board election; and (2) that they have multiple online venues under their control in which they have also silenced opposition. Since you are using plural here ("parties", "their control", "they") we can also assume (3) that the threat comes from at least two people acting in concert and jointly controlling online venues.

In my opinion, the only people who fit this bill are Polgar and Truong. I hope you will correct me if I am drawing the wrong conclusion.
- Brian Mottershead

Since I was the one man who was at the intersection of the mystery, (partner in the deceased blog and also Moderator in Susan’s forum) I contacted Susan who replied by e-mail.

The first I heard about this was a few hours ago from one of the USCF members who alerted me about the wild accusations and speculations which surfaced on the net. Neither Paul or I have anything to do with this and we hope that Steve would go public with this information. In fact, I encourage him to go public with it for the sake of all USCF members.

Best wishes,
I also contacted Steve Owens, the legal owner of ChessUSA. He would not give more information to me beyond what he had publicly announced.

I felt like Lieutenant Columbo of TV Fame as I asked the chess players to look at the evidence instead of leaping to conclusions. Here’s a portion of what I said.
But anyway, what’s a few facts getting in the way of all the anti-Polgar mania? Well, let’s list a few facts, anyway.

Item: Bill Goichberg’s other piece of evidence was “Steve’s” last statement on the blog before he closed it. Very clever wordplay by the USCF’s President for sure. Yes, indeedy, the anti-Polgar post quoted by Bill G was the very last one done by Steve but it was not the last one done on the blog.

Item: The last one done on the blog was done by myself!!! It was a rebuttal of the last post by Steve. That last blog post defended Susan and attacked the USCF leadership.

Item: The post Bill G gave so much weight to, contained 4 comments which he did not quote. 2 were by me, one by Donna A, and one by Steve. 2 of those 4 comments (50%) were critical of the USCF leadership (Donna and me), 1 was neutral (me), and Steve’s was anti-Polgar.

Item: Since December 1, 2008 (last 2 months) there have been a total of 13 posts. 9 were by me and 4 by Steve. 4 posts attacked the USCF leadership while only 1 post attacked Susan – the one Bill Goichberg quoted.

Item: ChessUSA should be considered a Pro-Polgar blog by a 4 to 1 ratio in the last 2 months.

Query: In earlier months the ratio changed depending upon whether Steve or myself was active. So, why would Susan suddenly launch this kind of attack just when the ratio had swung decisively in her favor?

Query: If Susan had given any attention to what was on the blog at all, which I doubt, wouldn’t a better course have been to quietly encourage me to post more on it and turn it into an even more pro-Polgar bastion than it already was? - Especially in light of Steve’s reluctance to post on it, by his own statement as well as his history?

So, if the obvious suspect did not do it, then who did? As Lieutenant Columbo might have asked, as he gazed down at the murder victim, “Who dunnit?”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

ChessUSA.Net – RIP

A mysterious litigator managed to close a chess site Friday. Though I was a partner in that site, I was not legally one, so I don’t know anything beyond what was posted there. Nor, do I know what was written that triggered the lawyer attack.

This is now the second chess site that has been attacked in as many months. In the Chess Blog Carnival on Jan. 1, I wrote this:
2008 had too many stories of governments and other official bodies censoring, punishing, and other wise taking control of the internet. Here in the chess world the internet war between Susan Polgar and the US Chess Federation begat dangers for the rest of us. First came the accusation that SP had conspired to hack into a USCF leader’s e-mail account. The USCF then used that as a pretext to commence legal attacks on her websites, ostensibly seeking the data to verify this accusation. The legal tactic was to serve papers on the internet service providers. Once the “keys to the kingdom” were turned over to the USCF, it could then use them to get the IP addresses of anybody who had ever posted anything and then go after them. (They are suing Susan, Gregory Alexander, and 10 other “John Does”.) Both defendants deny having anything to do with this.

Up to this point, the chess world can say that this is just a personal problem of Susan and Gregory. But those John Does are what concerns the rest of us. If the USCF are just targeting Susan and Gregory just because of politics, then they could target anybody. Do any of you reading this want chess politicians who may not like you, tracking your internet surfing and then use that information to embarrass you? Do any of you want to be victimized by specious lawsuits? - Just because you rubbed someone in power the wrong way?

On the other hand, the chess world should not hinder legitimate investigations into actual wrongs done on the internet. What we need is a statement from the USCF telling us what their policies, procedures, and safeguards are in this area. In the USCF’s Issues Forums I posted extensively on this and the USCF roundly rebuffed this call.

In the future, we may see other authorities in other countries who may want to target chess bloggers. Sadly, these events mean that we won’t be able to look to the chess leaders of the United States for support.

Little did I expect that the next victim would be hit so soon or that it would hit so close to home.

Why the USCF Needs a Whistleblower Policy

In October 2007 when I was discussing with Bill Hall the steps to take in regard to the allegations presented in the Mottershead report it became clear there were no formal procedures in place to be able to resolve such concerns. The organizations code of ethics tends to focus on behaviors related to participation in activities sponsored by or sanctioned by the USCF and the standards of conduct tends to focus on USCF officer behavior relating to board meetings. Having incomplete processes to funnel concerns about inappropriate behavior of our directors, in my view, encourages leaks to occur and fosters a climate of premature litigation.

These days many nonprofit organizations require their directors, other volunteers, and employees to observe high standards of business and personal ethics in the conduct of their duties and responsibilities. Employees and representatives of the organization must practice honesty and integrity in fulfilling their responsibilities and comply with all applicable laws and regulations. These organizations have a process to follow if anyone feels that the organizations code of ethics has been violated or that there has been a lack of compliance with any law, regulation, standard, or rule by its representatives. Such standards usually apply to all behavior occurring during or at an activity or function that is associated with the organization and even addresses related objectionable public behavior by these individuals outside of organization activities that can reflect negatively on the organization. To enforce these standards there needs to be associated complaint as well as disciplinary procedures. The policies for addressing behavior under the auspices of the Executive Director have many precedents in the corporate world but what about that of our volunteer leadership?

In late December the IRS announced the release of the final 2008 Form 990. Some of the most significant changes to the new 990 are the required disclosures related to governance and compensation of officers, directors and key employees. Because of the new reporting requirements, many organizations will need to reevaluate their overall governance policies and procedures, as well as the composition and responsibilities of the board of directors. In some cases these changes will be significant and will require considerable time and resources to implement. Line 13 of Part VI of the 2008 Form 990 asks whether the filing organization has a written whistleblower policy. A whistleblower protection policy outlines an organization’s approach to situations of whistleblowing, and establishes procedures for the reporting of inappropriate behavior. A whistleblower policy encourages staff and volunteers to come forward with credible information on illegal practices or violations of adopted policies of the organization, specifies that the organization will protect the individual from retaliation, and identifies those staff or board members or outside parties to whom such information can be reported.

Whistleblower reporting mechanisms are a means of both improving the internal control environment that discourages inappropriate conduct, and reducing the loss exposure if a problem occurs. Whistleblower reporting systems are now a best corporate practice. Formal collection mechanisms for whistleblower complaints should be adopted by all nonprofits. At this point, Boards of Directors who do not address this area of concern will be criticized.

Note having a better way to report a concern regarding our leadership’s behavior compliant with good practice is but one dimension of an organizational problem that does not preclude improvements in our standards of conduct or associated disciplinary procedures.

For further information see:

Good Governance

Policy Challenges

Sample Whistleblower Policy

Saturday, January 24, 2009


As promised, I will post an analysis of the pending lawsuits arising out of the FSS fiasco.  In a previous post, I referred to them collectively as a clusterf***.  That was inappropriate, and I would like to apologize to clusterf***s everywhere for the unflattering comparison.

The first lawsuit was filed by perennial pro se litigant Sam Sloan.  (Pro se, being the legal term for a person representing themselves -- it is also rumored to be Latin for "loser.")  Sloan sued any number of defendants, but his main claim was that USCF director Paul Truong was the "Fake Sam Sloan."

The newsgroup Rec.Games.Chess.Politics, never a hotbed of civility, had been infested by a creature impersonating Sam Sloan, Ray Parker, Brian Lafferty and others.  Even by usenet standards, this troll was profane, obnoxious, and idiotic.  This clown upchucked all over rgcp, making it virtually uninhabitable for vaguely civilized folks.  Most of the attacks were aimed at persons who were not allies of Troing.  This activity peaked before the election where Polgar and Truong were elected. 

Shortly after their election, Brian Mottershead, acting as a sysadmin on the USCF boards, noted that the FSS and Paul Truong had similar IP addresses when posting at the same time.  FSS started in New York, and then moved to Lubbock Texas at the time that Truong did.  FSS also posted from Mexico City at a time when Truong was also posting from Mexico City.  Mottershead prepared a report documenting his investigation and conclusions, which he supplied to USCF and, apparently, 2 other people.

Someone leaked the report, and the accusation became public.  It is still available for download at,

It is worth noting that this was not the first time that Mr. Truong had been accused of posting to rgcp under a false name.  Back in 2003, an obnoxious rgcp poster named "Bob Bennett" was linked to Truong.  See the following link:

Shortly after this posting, Bob Bennett disappeared from the rgcp stage never to return.

Sloan claimed that the that the FSS destroyed his reputation, a notion that I must confess I found highly amusing -- what's another dent on a car that has already been through 15 demolition derbies?  Sloan also asked that his the 2007 election be set aside, claiming that the FSS cost him his seat on the EB.  

As ridiculous as the suit was, USCF's insurance had counsel appear to defend it.  Members of the EB who were not parties to the lawsuit also hired counsel to advise them.  This counsel requested Mr. Truong to sign an affidavit saying that he was not the FSS, and provide IP information on his computer.  While Truong supplied some information, he did not provide either an affidavit or the IP addresses.  

In Philidelphia, Ray Parker filed a copycat lawsuit against many of the same defendants also arising out of the FSS postings.  USCF's insurance company was also defending that lawsuit, although, by this time, separate counsel were retained by the insurer to represent USCF and Polgar/Truong.

Sloan's suit was dismissed by the judge.  Parker's suit was dismissed as to all defendants except Polgar/Truong.  Had the matter stopped there, the litigation could have been under control, although the political fires would have raged.

Unfortunately, the matter was going to spin further out of control.

To be continued -- this blogger is too tired.

Where I coming from

I suppose everyone will want to know my own biases, preconceptions, etc.  I will give a bit of biography/political background.

I was taught to play chess by my father and my uncle.  My father was never an active tournament player, although I have heard family stories that my late Uncle Bill, was an active tournament player at some point.  I played in high school, but lost the game when I went to college.

In about 1992, I wandered into my local library, and saw a bunch of guys playing speed chess.  I sat down and promptly got my ass kicked.  I figured that I was rusty.  It took about three weeks before I realized that I wasn't just rusty -- these guys were good.

I then got involved in tournament chess, and became active in my state chess association.  Somebody decided it would be a good idea to have a lawyer on the board, and I was elected to the state board.  A local vacuum pulled me into tournament organizing and directing.  

Being on the board exposed me to USCF elections, a process that I found to be simultaneously bemusing and horrifying.  After being publicly critical of the Ethics Committee's method of handling the Goichberg v. Dorsch case, I was appointed to the Ethics Committee, on which I served until last August, when, because of work and family situations, I felt unable to devote proper attention to the work.  Other than a brief tenure on the by-laws committee, I have never served in any other USCF office or committee.  I have never attended a Delegate meeting or National Scholastic event, so I have no personal relationships with any of the current political actors.

In 2005 I relocated for a new job.  As a result, the nearest rated chess is well over an hour's drive away, so I haven't been able to play much chess, other than patzer chess on ICC.

As an attorney who has been tring civil cases for over 20 years, I have taken an interest in the various legal disputes that USCF has been embroiled in over the years.

I am sure I will be commenting later about the current legal clusterf***.   I will simply note, at this point, I feel that Mr. Truong and Ms. Polgar should resign for the good of USCF.  It is also pretty well documented that I have also not been a big fan of Bill Goichberg over the years.

Good Day

This blog is being started for a frank, but sane, discussion of USCF politics.  It is being opened partially in response to  the closing of  I will welcome posters with all points of view.

If anyone is interesting in having posting privileges on this blog, please contact me.  If you wish to post pseudonimously, I will work with you as long as:

(a)  I am aware of, and can verify, your true identity;
(b)  You are not a USCF employee, EB member, or EB candidate;
(c)  You do not abuse the privilege; and
(d)  You are not bug-eyed crazy.

I, in my sole discretion, will determine if you meet these criteria.

I'm making this up as I go along, so additional criteria may evolve over time.

I want to encourage all points of view.  I don't want to be a censor.  I want a full-throated discussion.  That said, it's my blog, and I reserve the right to act as editor.