David Unkovic Makes a Move
There’s been sign of David Unkovic. And it’s a pretty darned meaningful one.
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a sign of Harrisburg’s departed benevolent ruler. He has been spotted a couple of times in these few weeks after he resigned in handwritten letter from the first- ever Pennsylvania Office of the Receiver. However, he gave us no indication of what his next steps were to be.
His silence hasn’t waned the public’s wonder, though. In fact, quite the opposite has happened. Reporters have yearned to catch him, to be the one that records his first words since he left the City so abruptly that Friday morning, March 30th. As we remember, his resignation came just two days after he personally called media to his office for the notable press conference where he referred to “the parties who are pushing.” The press conference where he named names of companies, lobbyists, and politicians who he asserted were unfairly influencing the process of Harrisburg’s financial recovery. Any one who attended that day walked away from David Unkovic’s Office of the Receiver solemnly understanding that what Unkovic had just done was serious.
After that day, he has not spoken specifically about his departure on any record.
When we hadn’t heard from Unkovic afterward, reporters thought of ways to be persistent and the public thought of ways he was threatened. Some reporters were venturesome enough to travel to his home out in Western PA to see him on his lawn and to Philadelphia to attempt to catch him giving any reason why he left with nothing but a note behind. Since he’s been gone, the air has been abuzz with questions—What happened? Was he in danger? Why did he handwrite his resignation? How far did the parties push?
No one knows the actual answers, because he won’t pick up the phone, respond to emails, or give an interview. It took more than a week to track him down and approach him.
As always, the careful David Unkovic was careful.
Not only that, but he was well, in good form. It’s reported he seemed at ease. Apparently, he showed none of the angst and agitation of the last time the public saw him. He whispered no scandal of a horse head in his bed.
At the same time, he displayed none of the forthrightness he expressed before when we saw him last. He wouldn’t talk beyond polite chatter.
He can’t. That’s the part the public and the press alike have been missing. David Unkovic can’t talk, can’t give an interview, and can’t discuss why he left or elaborate on what he said at that press conference.
Because he no longer has immunity.
See, when Unkovic was the officer of the Office of the Receiver, he had “sovereign and official immunity” by decree of the Governor.
Here’s how the proclamation reads:
Limitation of Personal Liability. In accordance with Section 705(g) of the Act, the Receiver’s personal liability is limited as follows:
a. The Receiver shall not be liable personally for any obligations of the City of Harrisburg or any of its component units or authorities.
b. The Receiver possesses sovereign and official immunity, as provided in 1 Pa.C.S. § 2310 (relating to sovereign immunity reaffirmed; specific waiver), and is immune from suit except as provided by and subject to the provisions of 42 Pa.C.S. Chapter 85, Subchapter A (relating to general provisions), and Subchapter B (relating to actions against commonwealth parties).
c. The Receiver shall not be liable personally for any contractual or other financial obligations that he enters into in the course of exercising his official duties.
Sovereign immunity is indeed a very powerful thing to have. It means the person granted it is considered an extension of the government. Thus, the Receiver is not personally liable for generally anything the Receiver says or does as the Receiver. As the decree reads, the Receiver is “immune from suit.” Actions filed against the Receiver are actually actions filed against the State. Therefore, the State will provide counsel and defense and will pay the bills.
As always, the careful David Unkovic was careful.
No more immunity means David Unkovic no longer has those resources. It means he could be personally liable for anything he does or says.
Without a doubt the things Unkovic said the day of his last press conference outraged the companies, lobbyists, and politicians he pointed to including the bond insurer Assured Guaranty (AGM), the lobbying firm Greenlee Partners, and Dauphin County Commissioner Jeff Haste. Surely they were furious that he touched upon disclosing behind the scenes pacts, demands, and terms. Surely they bellowed and roared on the other side of those same closed doors they bargain behind, but they have not said a word in public nor filed slander in court.
However, should Unkovic step into the public light and utter one word now about what he experienced during his tenure as the City of Harrisburg’s Receiver, without hesitation, the lawsuits will come barreling at him. Lawsuits against him as a person. Lawsuits backed by a lot of corporate and public monies ready to be spent with ruthless intent until Unkovic would either give in, give up, or become destitute in the fight.
Prevailing in that particular battle would be too challenging, consuming, and costly for Unkovic to unwisely start by recording one misplaced word.
Unless it’s in the right forum.
If there’s anything we gleaned from David Unkovic while he was here in Harrisburg, it’s that he is a smart man.
His approach to the City’s recovery was adept, his timing measured, and his strategy shrewd. It was this combination that was the City’s greatest benefit of having a Receiver for the four months we had one. It was also this combination that frustrated the cogs of what seems has already been in the works.
Of course, Unkovic must have been given a talking to about “the works.” The Governor may act coy about his awareness and role in Harrisburg’s Receivership, but it could not have escaped Tom Corbett’s attention that not only for the first time ever did the City skip a general obligation bond payment by order of the Receiver, but also that Unkovic declared in Commonwealth Court he has perceived corruption in the City of Harrisburg.
The Office of the Governor had to have an eye on the Office of the Receiver with growing consternation. At one point someone must have told the Office of the Receiver that it needed to either readjust its attitude or there would be changes. No, it doesn’t seem “changes” had double meaning winking while smacking a baseball bat in the hand . More likely “changes” meant a relief of Unkovic’s duties to the State.
Clearly, Unkovic was antagonized when Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover ruled in favor of the Incinerator bond trustees granting them a receiver of their choice to oversee the budget and operations of the notorious waste burner. The concept of two receivers undeniably complicates an already complex situation at a time when progress was finally being made. Progress, though, is the operative word here since progress to some is not progress to others especially when there is pre-determined progress in place.
This Dauphin County ruling was the last straw for Unkovic, so it seems. He implied it could be politically contrived, and he couldn’t stomach “the political and ethical crosswinds” anymore. As Receiver, he could do no more to help the City of Harrisburg. So he planned his exit. Made deliberate choices. Realized the significance of what he was doing. Then did it.
To the surprise of everyone, to be sure. Everyone.
Why did he resign in handwritten letter? Not because there was a gun to his head but because it was the perfect thing to do at the time. Frustrated, agitated, incredulous, disrespected, and full of knowledge, Unkovic did what he needed to do to end his tenure on his terms, and it’s decisively on his terms that he left. Signed David Unkovic.
Now, almost a month later, he’s back.
And he’s not alone.
On April 24, 2012, Howard Bruce Klein, Esquire entered an Entry of Appearance in Commonwealth Court representing David Unkovic.
This means that Mr. Klein is David Unkovic’s attorney in any matters of the Court concerning David Unkovic.
At this moment, there are no matters that we know of, nor are there necessarily any particular matters foreseeable.
That being said, this is not a move to shrug off. After all, strategy is everything.
On Unkovic’s part, this move could be a precautionary one in case he’s called to the stand. It could also be a signal to certain parties that Unkovic has hired private counsel and is prepared.
Quite prepared he is, too. Howard Bruce Klein’s experience reads like a precision weapon. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, he has a sharp history of working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office as Chief of the Criminal Division and Chief of the Corruption/Labor Section. He was then the Assistant U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Pennsylvania for six years before working at the mega firm Blank Rome, LLC, where he was employed for 9 years, two of which he was the Chairman of the Litigation Department. In 1996, Klein went into private practice and specializes in white collar criminal defense, civil litigation, and perhaps most interestingly, False Claims Act representations. The False Claims Act goes after people and companies that defraud the government. Basically, it’s the act that protects whistleblowers.
As if that wasn’t enough, Klein is also an instructor with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. He teaches other lawyers how to be skillful advocates seeking justice.
This is who David Unkovic’s attorney is. For all the stomach Unkovic didn’t have for this mess he became so entangled in, Klein has it threefold.
Sometimes it’s difficult not to ponder this whole thing in terms of the movie it could someday be. It’s hard not to think of the books that will one day come out of Harrisburg, PA. The tell-alls and admittances. Forensic interpretations and cautionary tales. It’s hard not to imagine all the people, places, dates, times, names, transactions, relationships, meetings, deals, steals, and moments encapsulated in players on the screen.
City of Harrisburg, we just got our latest character. Howard Bruce Klein, courtesy of our former Receiver David Unkovic. Who will speak again on the record. On the stand. In Court. With his attorney at his side.
Should the situation head there, Unkovic’s ready.
Access the website of the Law Offices of Howard Bruce Klein: here
***please do not re-produce or publish this document without proper source citation (today’s the day Harrisburg)
See also the following articles:
- 3/28/12–“Parties Pushing”
- 3/30/12–“Harrisburg Receiver David Unkovic Submits His Resignation”
- 4/2/12–“Harrisburg Receiver David Unkovic’s Letter of Resignation”