Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

TOP STORY >>U.S. prosecutor demoted over bullying e-mail

IN SHORT: Witness in Campbell trial used his government computer and official title to try to intimidate newspaper with threat of a $50 million libel suit and takeover of The Leader.

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor

A deputy prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock has fantasies about owning this newspaper.

Robert Govar of Lonoke — formerly chief of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock who’s now been demoted — threatened to sue me last week over a column I wrote about him and his buddy Jay Campbell, the crooked cop who was sentenced to 40 years in prison, along with his wife Kelly, who received a 20-year sentence.

The deputy prosecutor fired off an hysterical e-mail from his office, predicting he would win a $50 million judgment against us, so we’d better get ready to turn The Leader over to him.

“I hope you and some of your ‘sources’ have fifty million dollars but, if you don’t, take good care of my newspaper,” he wrote Friday morning, acting as if he already owned the place.

Imagine Govar as a newspaper publisher: Govar probably would have reported the Campbell trial more favorably toward his friends. He thinks we’ve ruined his reputation because we wrote he’d been hanging out with Campbell too long.

A lot of people think Govar sullied his reputation long before we wrote about him. (See his complete e-mail on p. 7A.) His colleagues in law enforcement consider Govar arrogant and boorish who should have been dismissed from his job a long time ago.

In their heyday, Campbell and Govar were both known as bullies as they worked together on various criminal investigations.
“Two peas in a pod” — that’s how a law-enforcement official characterized the pair when he heard about Govar’s ridiculous e-mail.

Fortunately, Govar’s boss, U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin, doesn’t think his employees should write outrageous e-mails on government computers, on government time, using their government title to intimidate the press. And he probably doesn’t want them to be aspiring publishers either.

Govar lost his position after I forwarded his e-mail to the U.S. attorney on Friday afternoon. Griffin said Govar had not shown him the e-mail before he sent it to me.

Monday morning, Griffin named longtime prosecutor Pat Harris as Govar’s successor.

Griffin said in a statement to The Leader on Monday, “Mr. Govar sent the email without notice to me or approval by me.
“Despite the fact that he sent it on DOJ email, on DOJ time and using his official title, he did not speak for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

“Any libel action contemplated by Mr. Govar would be a matter filed in his personal capacity and would not involve the U.S. government.”

Govar is unhappy with our coverage of the Campbell trial, which revealed that the former chief criminal prosecutor used Act 309 prison laborers to clear a lot for his new home. Act 309 prisoners are held in local jails while they await transfer to overcrowded state prisons, but they cannot be used as laborers.

Govar testified he didn’t know he was using Act 309 inmates when he asked Campbell, who was then Lonoke police chief, to clear Govar’s land. Govar claims the inmates were paid for their work, but who kept the money?

Former Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett will be tried for using Act 309 inmates to put up Christmas decorations and to repair his air conditioner at his house.

Griffin is trying to restore confidence in the U.S. attorney’s office after the Justice Department fired eight federal prosecutors (including his predecessor Bud Cummins). I’m glad he’s acted swiftly against a rogue deputy, but Griffin hasn’t gone far enough: He should fire Govar if he hopes to bring back respect to the U.S. attorney’s office.

E-mail that started furor
Mr. Garrick Feldman,
I just wanted you to know that I will be engaging the services of the best libel lawyers I can find to sue you, your newspaper, “The Leader”, and Leader Publishing, Inc. Your article, “Why didn’t feds take this case?”, in the April 25, 2007 issue of The Leader contains lies which damage my professional reputation.
You will be receiving a letter from me soon which will provide more details. I hope you and some of your “sources” have fifty million dollars but, if you don’t, take good care of my newspaper. And for Pete’s sake, if you are going to destroy a professional person’s reputation by printing lies, at least get their title correct.

Robert J. Govar
Chief, Criminal Division
United States Attorneys Office
Eastern District of Arkansas
501-340-2616
Bob.govar@usdoj