For the better part of a year I relied on the legal counsel of the Thomas More Law Center to advise me what to do concerning the Muslim student situation at Tarrant County College. It was the only group that seemed to have the wherewithal to step forward when asked to help out with a very sad situation. What is even sadder is the mistake I made to trust those at TMLC in the first place. Fool me once, shame on them.
My first contact with Thomas More was on December 12, 2011 when Fran Morello responded to my request for help via their online submission process.
On November 15, 2011 I resigned under duress from Tarrant County College, when I was an instructor. The resignation came in lieu of their [Muslim] disruption in a class I taught on World Religions whereby my person, my reputation, and my credentials were maliciously attacked, as the students proceeded to pass around a libelous email that they used to convince TCC administration that I was an “evil man.” Instead of dealing with the situation according [the] TCC Student Handbook regulations, [I was] called in and singled out, stripped of my already approved syllabus, and muzzled as to the freedom to express myself in the classroom on a subject that I had been teaching there for the past three and one-half years. The two students were never reprimanded, and the remaining students who protested the administration’s mishandling of the situation through the formal filing of grievances, have never been responded to. There are many more details to this sordid story than space allows to convey.
Thank you for your inquiry. What were the accusations made against you by the students? What are the essential facts of the situation? Do you have any documentation you can send to me from the school? Do you have a copy of the e-mail the students sent? Do you have copies of any of the grievances you refer to? What was the objection to your syllabus? What regulations do you believe the college failed to follow? You can e-mail documentation or fax it to 734-930-7160. (You do not need to send the student handbook since it is available online.).”
After relaying additional pertinent information Erin Mersino was assigned to my case on January 16, 2012. On January 23 we spoke on the phone and I shared with her my story and then sent her TCC’s Executive Summary of Inquiry that was submitted to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for publication, which was not only unethical, it was defamatory and illegal. But, who really cares about defamation and illegalities when it’s the institution doing it to the little guy?
On February 1, 2012, at 8:51 a.m., Erin wrote to let me know that, “We have our paralegal securing local counsel. I cannot sign a retainer agreement until I have local counsel. If there is progress achieved before the end of the day, I will let you know as soon as I hear something.” Then later that day, at 5:04 p.m., she wrote again to inform me, “We received a response from one attorney who might be willing to be local counsel. I am speaking with him tomorrow to discuss his role in the litigation process and what he will need to do as local counsel. I will call you after I speak with him.” Then she wished me a “good night.” My thought was hallelujah! These two Muslim students and TCC are not going to get away with this. But, all the good news was a mirage.
On February 3, in three separate emails, she wrote to inform me that local counsel had not been secured; that she apologized, since “This is taking longer than I thought it would.” But, “We will find someone. We just need to have faith. I will keep you updated.” And, “Please don’t get discouraged. We are working hard over here on the problem.”
After waiting another four days, and finding no one, Erin wrote to let me know that ACT! for America (Brigitte Gabriel’s organization) was now involved in helping to find a local counselor to work with Thomas More in the filing of a federal lawsuit.
ACT!, despite the many sincere and kindhearted donors, turned out to be more of a glory hound type of organization than anything. Not only did ACT! fail to provide the needed counsel, later on when I tried to contact them for assistance, specifically when it came to financing my own private lawyer, it acted as if I was either (1) undeserving, since I would be cutting into its bottom line, or (2) that it didn’t even know me. Later on, a local ACT! member resigned his membership out of disgust over how the parent organization was treating me.
On February 15 Erin wrote, “We have continued efforts to find local counsel, yet have not been able to secure counsel yet. I spoke with one individual who wanted to be lead counsel on the matter, but not local counsel.” That lead counsel person happened to be Hiram Sasser at the Liberty Institute. Before contacting Thomas More I wrote LI to ask for their help and they wouldn’t give me the time of day. On February 9 Sasser had written Stephanie Terek at ACT! and said, “We are interested in looking into the matter.” Later, on February 22, when I wrote Leslie Parks at LI to ask about Sasser’s interest, she replied: “I talked with Hiram and we are unable to take on additional cases at this time, we are very small and full to capacity.” So, in the matter of one week the Liberty Institute went from interest to being too busy?
When I brought this to Kelly Shackelford’s attention on Facebook, he got nasty with me by saying that my comments were inappropriate, since his boasting about Liberty’s involvement with protecting some cheerleaders rights to use religious banners during football games was what was important. Shortly thereafter he defriended me and we haven’t spoken since. Thanks, Kelly, for confirming that not only were my comments appropriate, but that Liberty will take cases, not because they’re not too busy, but because it garners Liberty fame and fortune. I sure hope those cheerleaders enjoy rooting for their teams in burqas one day. They’ll have Liberty to thank, in part.
On February 23, 2012 paralegal Sally Ann Sewald made a cameo appearance. She was a last-ditch desperate attempt on the part of Kelly Cook (who is no longer associated with ACT!) to try and get me someone in North Texas to help locate an attorney who could work with Thomas More. As first she seemed as if she knew what she was doing, even though there also seemed to be a lot of bluster to her rhetoric.
After failing to make phone connections with her initially, she wrote me on February 23 to say, “One more thing: we are not taking on the victim role here. . .we are going to Kick A__ if we have to put it on TV and let there be public outcry. . .let’s see what America is made of. . .I am tired of seeing the government placate these people that have already said they want to kill us. . .”
The next day she wrote, “Yes, a terrible precedent has been set that must be overturned. . .they need to be sent packing back to Afghanistan or wherever. . .” Then on the February 27 she said that she had put in a call for some attorney, but didn’t state who it was; that she had contacted Erin at Thomas More and “…expressed to her that I am thinking that it is very likely TCC has placed all the major law firms on retainer so they are unable to hire anyone else due to a conflict. She said she has NEVER had a problem getting local counsel in Dallas.” Welcome to Fort Worth, everyone. May I remind you that Fort Worth is not Dallas.
On February 28, Sally Ann sent me a copy of a letter she sent to attorney David Kelley. In it she wrote,
I am writing you concerning a potentially very high profile case involving Tarrant County Community College (“TCC”) and a professor pertaining to disruption in a class resulting in an administration pressuring the resignation of the professor. . . I understand there is a 501(c)3 that is out of state that will be completing the filings but require local counsel. I have attached Paul Derengowski’s own words of the story. If you would kindly get back with us at your earliest convenience so we understand your direction as to whether or not you will be working the case. If you determine you cannot take this matter at this time, would you kindly recommend someone? Please thank your lovely assistant, Lisa for us!
I never heard from Mr. Kelley, and shortly afterward is when Sally Ann became hostile. On March 2, rather than simply acting the part of a paralegal and find me an attorney to work with Thomas More, she tried to take the case on herself and act the part of a frustrated wannabe counselor. When I tried to explain to her the conditions involved in my resignation, she wrote in a condescending manner,
Why didn’t you just make them fire you? They can’t force you to resign.
. .not understanding. . .sure – it’s much easier for them to put all
kinds of pressure on you and then get you to resign but they can’t force
you to do anything. . .
I am on your side. . .I am simply trying to help you get outside the box
and see where the weaknesses are in this case and what we need to do to
strengthen our position.
Gary? Who is Gary? It’s Paul, remember? Anyway, I think most normal people can see my point. Sally Ann proceeded to write and tell me that if she hears from anyone she would let me know. Also, later she called me on the phone to tell me she didn’t want to hear anymore of my “bullshit.” She apparently did not like my rebutting her “bullshit” bravado which included making it perfectly clear that I was fed up with the delays, promises, and glory-seeking lawyers who were more interested in media fame and lining their pockets than truth and justice. I never heard from Sally Ann Sewald again.
On February 29 I contacted the Texas Wesleyan Law School to see if they knew of someone who might fit Erin Mersino’s criteria. After Ms. Rosalind Jeffers at TW was kind enough to ask what I needed, Erin wrote and said that a law student could not fulfill the requirements, but a law professor could. According to Erin, “We are in need of a licensed attorney admitted in the N.D. of Texas to serve as local counsel. Thomas More Law Center will complete the majority of the work. Local counsel only helps with filing the documents with the court and advice on the local rules of the court and the specific rules of the Judge’s chambers.” After that TW was dropped from consideration.
Speaking of dropping, on March 16, I dropped Thomas More from the case and turned to the ACLJ, which is Jay Sekulow’s organization. I told Erin that things had not worked out and that I would be contacting the ACLJ. So that I would not have to reinvent the wheel, even though that is basically what I did anyway, I asked Erin if she would be willing to send all of the information I had sent her over the course of the past few months to them. She agreed, even though I ended up doing it anyway.
After submitting all the documentation to the ACLJ on March 14, the ACLJ wrote me back on March 23 to say, “Our legal staff has reviewed your inquiry and we have determined that the ACLJ is unable to assist you at this time. While we understand your concerns, unfortunately, this matter does not present an issue that the ACLJ can address on your behalf.” Really? So, all the of sudden the ACLJ does handle matters of free speech in Iran, when Muslims suppress it there, but it doesn’t handle free speech issues in the United States, when the Muslims suppress it here? But, if I wanted to stay abreast of ACLJ‘s glory search, I could listen to Jay on a local radio station. Does any of that really make any sense? Thanks for the snub, Jay.
Two months passed and on May 22 I re-contacted Erin at Thomas More to see if we could continue the hunt for local counsel. She wrote, “I will resume the search for local counsel. If you personally know of any attorney who would assist in this capacity, that would be helpful. TMLC would be doing the majority of the work, so all local counsel needs to do is assist with local rules and help with filings. We will be in touch.” Fine. I started looking.
On August 29, 2012 Erin wrote to inform me that she still has not been able to get a North Texas lawyer to help and to “please pursue representation independently. If the opportunity arises that I am able to find local counsel, I will notify you immediately- but I do not want you to wait on us. Law center’s resources are being used right now in our active cases, and we have been extremely busy. I wish I could do more to help you, but I will let you know if we are able.” “Active cases”? Mine isn’t active? “We have been extremely busy”? Has the TMLC now become another branch of the Liberty Institute?
Frankly, during the three-month interim, neither Erin Mersino or Thomas More resumed any search. The story had grown cold and they had other more important subjects to defend, like Terry Jones’ burning Korans and Michelle Bachmann’s exposé of the Muslim Brotherhood. Who cares if another American is sacrificed on the Muslim altar in a public education institution? He can get his own independent counsel. Thomas More is “extremely busy.”
It was also at this same time that the EEOC contacted me to ask if I wanted to proceed with my complaint that I had filed eight months ago. I acknowledged that I did, so I went to speak with that office in Dallas and was allowed to file an official charge of religious discrimination against TCC. Normally, if someone does not have enough to file a charge the EEOC will not give that person the time of day. But, the more the lawyer listened, the more she was convinced that there was merit.
In early November I met with an EEOC mediator along with three TCC officials. They, of course, denied any wrongdoing and after the meeting the EEOC official labeled them as “bigots.” I couldn’t have put it any better. Since that time several TCC professors have come forth with all kinds of charges of bigotry and malfeasance against the TCC administration. Whether it will amount to anything remains to be seen.
Late in October I finally managed to strike pay dirt as far as local counsel. In fact, it was on the first try and purely by happenstance. It wasn’t that I had not been trying before. I just didn’t know where to look or who to ask.
I contacted the Tarrant County Bar Association on October 22, 2012 to inquiry about a lawyer who dealt with defamation and libel. Before the statute of limitations ran out in November I needed to file a suit against the female Muslim. The Association recommended Mr. Gary Don Parish. No suit was brought, as he didn’t deem it to be worth the effort. Yet, he saw potential in going after TCC.
After sitting down and consulting with him on October 25 and explaining what took place at TCC he mentioned that he was a member of the Federal Court of the North District of Texas or the very kind of person that Erin supposedly was looking for all this time. He said that he would be willing to “carry the water,” so to speak, for Erin. All she had to do was contact him and let him know what she needed to have done. The only extra requirement was that he wanted to be compensated. To take care of that I set up a legal fund on PayPal and raised over $10,000.00 to help pay for his fees.
When I contacted Erin on November 5, 2012, to let her know that I had finally found a lawyer and had set up the fund to pay for him, her response was, “Why don’t we plan on talking in a week or so and touching base? I am still on bed rest, and need time to speak with the attorney you recommended. If we were able to secure pro bono local counsel, I would still need to get approval from the president of the law center.” Pro bono local counsel? Erin, are you not paying attention? I just let you know that I’ve raised the necessary funds to pay for him. So, why do we still need a pro bono counselor?
When I told her that I did not want to wait another week, simply because the donors were lining up and the ball was rolling again, and that if she couldn’t fulfill the role because of her bed rest, then have someone else fill in for her until she could, she became a bit snotty with me. She responded with, “I can forward your email, but I recommend finding other counsel as well. I would be the attorney working on the case and if my timing cannot work for you, I don’t want you to be delayed. I will be in touch.” She never did get “in touch.” Instead, she did the TCC thing by stonewalling me.
Surprisingly, but then again, maybe not too surprisingly, on December 12, 2012, after months of delay and finally locating a lawyer who could help, and the gathering of funds to pay for his compensation to simply run paper back and forth to the courthouse, Erin had the gall to write, after I had sent her three emails and made two phone calls, leaving messages—all of which she never responded to—asking how she was and if there was someone who could fill in for her, she wrote:
I hope all is well. I wanted to let you know that I spoke with the president of the law center regarding your case. It is under review as to whether the law center will take the case at this time. As you know if accepted, I would be the attorney handling the case. I am currently on maternity leave. I understand you have called the law center a couple times. If you are looking for someone to take immediate action on your case, then I would recommend looking for other representation. I will be in touch.
Please note that this is over a month since I first heard from her back in November, when she wrote, “Why don’t we plan on talking in a week or so and touching base?” I’m not sure how long the weeks are in Michigan, having never been there, but in Texas and the rest of the union, one week is defined by seven, 24-hour days. Yet, here she writes me back five weeks later to tell me that after a year of waiting, the Thomas More president is now undetermined about my case? No, Erin, this has nothing to do with Richard Thompson. This has to do with you and your lack of integrity.
Anyway, that was the last I ever heard from her. When I called after the Christmas holiday I spoke with a Thomas More representative who basically said the same thing: “We haven’t even taken your case or filed a suit.” In other words, even though all the emails were exchanged leading me to believe that the TMLC was representing me, both before and after the March 16 dismissal, now all of the sudden, we’re not sure if we’re going to take your case. But, cheers! “We’ll be in touch.” Why sure you will—in a week or so, which in TMLC timing means not until after the baby is born, sometime after never.
Frankly, I’m not sure which is the bigger Mickey Mouse operation: the Tarrant County College administration or the Thomas More Law Center. TCC promotes terrorism by blindly turning an eye to it when it happens by blaming those who expose it. TMLC says that it is on a “mission to restore and defend America’s Judeo-Christian heritage,” but that only seems to be the case when it can gain media coverage to expand its donor base. So, I’ll let the reader decide. Right now, in my opinion, they are both about equal.
Unfortunately, the TCC saga continues, except this time I think it is safe to say that TMLC is dismissed by default. As of today no one from TMLC has called or written to stay “in touch.” That’s fine. I hope Erin and the gang don’t or won’t either. If one is going to make promises that are never going to be kept and then sit back and lie with impunity that one is going to do something that they know is never going to happen, then I would be just as well-off going down in defeat on my own, than to have them as my so-called Judeo-Christian legal “representation” that aids and abets the enemy. And that being the case, fool me twice, shame on me.
UPDATE (2/11/13): Erin Mersino called at 5:39 p.m., but left no message. Sorry, Erin, but I did as you told me and went and retained independent counsel. So, win or lose, I no longer need your services (such as they were). Besides, you’re “extremely busy” and don’t need to represent this peon anyway. Thanks for calling “a week or so” too late.