Jun 09 2015

Victories and the Legal Threats to Silence My Writing: One Letter

It’s been many years since I first was threatened with a lawsuit in about 2011 if I continued to write and publish about my experience in Victories of the Heart,  previously known as the Men’s Room, now known as Victories for Men.

I so regret most of my involvement, especially in leadership and Board involvement. A friend at the time, Kevin Fitzpatrick referred me to Bob Mark for psychotherapy, then for some reason, changed his mind and suggested Buddy Portugal. Portugal was charismatic, with lots of hubris. His office seemed to be designed by an art director and interior design specialist to appeal to psychotherapy patients. It was impressive.

Not impressive were his limited evaluation skills and knowledge about trauma. For Portugal, one solution fit all problems, namely seeing him individually and participating in his men’s weekend, then called the Men’s Room. Ultimately, this was not helpful and I was much later diagnosed with serious brain health issues, likely caused by early childhood trauma.

I’m not sure Portugal thought much about my trauma and the impact it may have had on my brain. He had a learning disability and didn’t read much and was the type of therapist who listened a lot and could give you the impression of great concern. There were times too when his eyes struggled to remain open. He seemed tired. He told me he never took notes and many years later, he proved this when I formally asked him for my psychotherapy file, and he sent me a xmas card I sent him of my family and an insurance claim copy. Nothing else.

Fast forward, I was recruited to join his men’s program, did so, then left…then was recruited again by Paul Kachoris in about 2003 and rejoined becoming a co-leader with Kurt Schultz a brilliant man whose vulnerability was in service to authority. He could be easily manipulated by Portugal, at least.

By 2007, I could see Portugal and Mark had subverted the 2004 Strategic planning process in their desire to make their Wisdom Years program come close to their hype of it being the only program of its type for men over 50. It could not. Portugal’s request for me to provide an evaluation of this program (I attended the Boston weekend) led to many disrespectful and degrading voicemails. Click here to read some of these voicemails from Portugal.

He at first seemed to understand he had crossed a line and was poised to apologize. However, after a meeting with Kurt, he changed his tune and began an even more damaging cat and mouse (I was the mouse) game where he cancelled a meeting and offered times so far in the future, it became clear he would not apologize and even perhaps felt no remorse. he certainly was in no rush to meet and resolve the damage he had done with his voicemails.

The narrative became easy to understand as I listened to his projections of me avoiding him and not accepting his apologies. He had never made an apology and in the voicemails and brief note he sent me, there is no hint of any remorse or accountability from him, while he continued to weave a narrative that I had injured him.

In a private meeting with Bob Mark, Paul Kachoris and Kevin Fitzpatrick, Portugal and the other three made it clear they would not meet with me to address my complaints and believed I was emotionally disturbed. I know this from a 5 page email I received from one of the participants at the meeting.

It’s pretty sad. They believed I was emotionally disturbed, yet refused to meet with me, clearly siding with Buddy Portugal and protecting themselves from my core complaints about them subverting the 2004 Strategic plan to maintain their own unique way of doing things that relied on their personal charisma and the loyalty of their client based support system in their respective programs. From my vantage point and the view of the two distinguished psychologists who led the strategic planning process and wrote the report and recommendations, the old way of doing things relied on blind devotion to the founders and led to a variety of dysfunctional organizational problems.

This blind devotion and organizational dysfunction was evident in the 2003-2004 crisis related to the then Administrator who was mistreated and scapegoated by the same four leaders involved in my dispute. A second example is how Portugal was so wedded to his own view of the Wisdom years being the next best thing to sliced bread, he blocked himself from my excellent evaluation so completely, it led him to degrade me personally, referring to me as chronically disappointed. This was a manipulative way to say I was depressed and suffering an emotional breakdown.

It’s very important to stop and consider this situation. These are mental health practitioners who present themselves to the world as healers and innovators refusing to meet with me, a person who had been very supportive of their program and them as individuals for about 15 years. As for Paul Kachoris and Kevin Fitzpatrick, I had volunteered for several years to help them get almost everyone of their initial weekends off the ground, witnessed and supported their leadership development.

Being well-versed in dealing with different personality types, it was clear to me I was being the target of projections, much like the former administrator earlier in 2003.  Was this a situation where others had to make me “bad” in order for them to be “good.”

Watching the Trump drama and his efforts to silence James Comey, I am reminded of the threats, first from Buddy Portugal and his attorney,  and then from my former leader partner, the deceased Kurt Schultz who wrote the copy for the lawyer letter written again by Buddy Portugal’s attorney.

So two threatening lawyer letters. one direct threat across what was supposed to be a meeting to try to find a way to resolve the impasse between Victories and myself. If it were not for the more measured, reasonable intervention of another Victories principal at the breakfast meeting ( I was unable to eat anything), I would have left. I am not sure who likes to be threatened while eating breakfast.

Then, there was the final email threat. I was first scared, then angry, then calmly realized I didn’t have to be afraid because I was telling the truth and had volumes of memos, notes and emails (see James Comey method) which corroborated my story.

I had one telephone call with the Board president where I decided to restate my story about being asked to smoke pot and kill a rat the night before a weekend, even though the men telling me this was what we were going to do had to have known I abstained from all substances and had done so for many years.

I had revealed this before, but perhaps the other men believed Kurt’s version that I was distorting what happened and what I heard and essentially that I was lying. Did the other principal men involved tell him to allege this in the threatening lawyer letter? I feel sorry for them if they did. I would guess Kurt just said, “let me handle this…” and the letter was written and sent to my mailbox.

I remember I was most distressed that in addressing this conflict, Kurt and the others would resort to lying about key details and facts. Kurt and I were able to talk as friends and colleagues shortly before he died. I felt sorry he had been used so badly by Buddy Portugal and the other Victories principals.

Kurt was the fixer and his heart was in the right place. He wanted others to be happy and love him and this made him vulnerable to Buddy Portugal who was persuasive and quick to threaten the withdrawal of his hubris filled positive regard.

In the end, I told the principals I was publishing everything I had written and would continue to write. If anyone threatened me again, I would take legal action of my own and file complaints with the appropriate professional associations.

I told them to give some thought to seeing and hearing me testify about the truth, while the others would have to do their best to lie and make it believable.

I published the hostile voicemails from  Buddy Portugal here and have the recordings from my voicemail system and warned that they would not sound pretty in court, being the hostile, abusive and scathing” (Portugal’s description of the worst message) words of a former therapists of his client become successful, effective leader.

My comparison to Comey is done without any suggestion my conflict with Victories and some principals is anything comparable. It’s similar only in the way self-absorbed men attempt to hide the truth by bullying and defaming the person speaking up.

In my case, Portugal, et al claimed I was having an emotional breakdown. I have this from one of the people at the key meeting where they decided to ignore my complaints about mistreatment and them hijacking the strategic planning process to promote their own programs to the detriment of the letter and spirit of the 2004 Strategic planning process which recommended building a more cohesive and collaborative organizational structure and programming.

 

Here is the 2011 Lawyer letter I received with my responses:

 

December 19,2011

 

Dear Mr. Martin

 

We are attorneys representing victories of the heart, and if the victories. The Board of Directors of victories has recited receive court your correspondence dated the 15th and 17th 2011, and we respond as follows. The letter state that you intend to publish information about victories and or its programs. Actual publication has already occurred through the posting of such information on your Internet blog. A preliminary review of your statements raises the following serious legal considerations and consequences.

My response: I gave the recipients of the emails and letters sufficient time to be in touch with me to arrange some type of mediation, something I had sought for a few years. When I didn’t hear back from them, I published the document, as I had warned. I can only speculate they met together and determined the best course of action was to claim I was lying, distorting, as their lawyer letter stated. Behind the scenes, I would also guess they claimed I was having an emotional breakdown. 

First, please be reminded that in the written leadership agreement between you and victories, you agreed not to lecture publish anything concerning victories or its programs without the prior written authorization of the victories board or its designee. Such permission was never granted to you by victories. There are hereby directed to immediately remove all such items from your blog and take all action necessary to bring yourself into compliance with your contract. Failure to do so will result in further legal action against you.

My response: 

The contract mentioned here was something that Kurt thought of after I began to make my complaints with leaders and threats to write about them more public. Kurt described the contract as something to protect Victories programs and I had no intention, nor have I over the years, attempted to copy any of Victories programs. I suspected after receiving this threatening lawyer letter that it was Kurt’s way of trying to prevent me from making my unresolved complaints public. I had made every attempt to resolve these complaints privately.

I warned the principals I would write about these matters as I considered them abusive to me and an example of the systemic entitlement these men had within the organization. I knew they could do whatever they wanted,  expect not to be held accountable, and further, key powerful people within the system, like Kurt, would be manipulated to fight others like myself who were more vulnerable.

My only recourse was to write and publish. I have to assume they underestimated my ability to write and the many contemporaneous documents I wrote about what was happening around me and to me at the time.

Anyone knowing how the dyadic leadership structure worked may also realize how personally damaging it was to Kurt to manipulate him to clean up their messes. When I met with Kurt shortly before his death, he told me how difficult this period was for him. He and I had been a leader team. He knew I asked him to recuse himself from this conflict, but Buddy Portugal pressured him to get me to back off and withdraw my request for mediation. No one would be surprised by this and it’s likely one or all of the surviving leader principals may be able to substantiate this as witnesses.  Also, the letters I received were quite obviously written by Kurt. 

 

Second, your disclosure of the light statements that you attribute to leader name and/or leader name in the context of the 1995 name weekend violates the confidentiality agreement applicable to all leaders and participants will weekend. Moreover, your statements concerning these individuals misquotes them and assert claims about them which are untrue and distorted.

This point involves my disclosure I was told by two leaders we were going to “smoke pot and kill a pet, white rat from an Evanston pet store” at this Thursday night pre-weekend meeting. Allegedly, I talked them out of it. I only really know I didn’t smoke pot or kill a pet rat that night. So, everything I detailed in my letter was completely true and involved inappropriate behavior by leaders that could have risked the safety of participants and placed these leaders and myself and the Victories organization in serious legal and ethical jeapardy. As I mentioned in my disclosure, I revealed this inappropriate behavior to my wife, a close friend and later Kurt. So, Kurt being manipulated to deny this actually happened was a tragic manipulation of him by others who he may have felt he had to protect.

 

Third, your discussion of the nudity on the shadow weekend without disclosing that nudity ceased in 2008 a fact known to you for years appears to be an effort to defame victories. The same can be said of your attempt to equate or compare the actions of the victories board of directors to the egregious conduct of certain religious and academic institutions.

My response:  It was not a known fact that nudity ceased in 2008. I only knew the idea of men being nude for long periods of time at the weekend was being challenged. During my last formal meeting about this, I was told the plan was to have the men wear black gym shorts. There was no mention about how they would change into the gym shorts and whether there might be t-shirts as well. I still do not know that. The official website makes the pejorative statement that there is no nudity on the weekend in response to the question, “I heard there is nudity on this weekend.”

I believe the use of nudity by the leaders along with other inappropriate program ideas has been very detrimental to the organizational development process and it was part of my comprehensive criticism of programs during my 4+ years in leadership from 2003-2008. It was a dumb idea to copy something from another weekend and it only created doubt and ambivalence about the program. I and others heard the complaints from participants of the weekend and it was numbing and frightening to me to hear about the length of time men were nude and silent. I considered these methods to be unethical and counterproductive to the welfare of participants and the mission/values of the organization.

 Further, there is a reason why this program has weak internal and external support within the larger community. If it was such a good experience, why does it still struggle to gain participants. I have no doubt if the principals listened to my complaints and responded, their programs (wisdom years and shadow weekend) would have been improved. Unless there is legal action, I do not plan to publish my evaluation for the Wisdom years experience in Boston where I was a participant. I was asked 2x for my evaluation. The second time it was received, it resulted in 30 minutes of hostile, ad hominem voicemails. It’s troubling when  you are asked for an evaluation then personally attacked as being “chronically disappointed.”

 

Fourth, your correspondence request appropriate credit for your contributions to the victories, basic staff training handout and defames victories by suggesting that victories has engaged in on ethical or legal misconduct by not acknowledging your contribution and subsequent versions of the handout. In April 2008. You acknowledge that victories have the right to use and publish those materials. The request for attribution was made at the time. It is our understanding the subsequent versions of the document, including those used while you were still waiting basic staff training, do not attribute authorship to any individual, just as your initial version of the document failed to acknowledge the contributions of David Karr’s work form the basis of your draft. Victories has never misrepresented a role in creating the handout. In fact, the message announcing the resignation from victories. Specifically, thank you for this contribution to one of victories programs.

My response: Readers may find this surprising, but I felt like I put aside a lot of sharp elbows and myopic thinking while involved and even after I resigned. I thought my resignation made it clear I no longer thought I could have an impact and the rigidity of the system almost guaranteed the organization would continue to struggle with development. On a practical level, it meant two men would be selected to lead weekends and then would have the unforgiving burden to recruit men to participate if they were to be considered successful. And all efforts would be made to keep the two founders and the other principal leader team happy. 

However, it was not until Kurt and another leader team were selected to give a presentation on psychodrama at a mind-body conference where I realized how insensitive these men could be. Kurt and I and several other volunteers were the ones who designed the psychodrama training (the original basic staff training) and enabled volunteers to learn how to do “heartwork” or psychodrama during Breakthrough weekends. The fact I was not included in the workshop I found shocking and unacceptable. I lodged a complaint and it went nowhere.

At this later time I requested acknowledgement for my involvement in the overall creative process of the psychodrama training. I wasn’t looking for credit for the writeup or any document used in the training. I  believe I should have been given more permanent credit for the total process of evaluating and ending the Spirit of Generosity, then working with the team of others, principally Kurt, to develop what is now the Psychodrama training.

My request for acknowledgement must have sent a shock wave through the leadership of the organization, as the dysfunctional culture of the organization only allowed “Bob and Buddy” to be credited for anything. There were others recognized at dinners, but they were usually outside persons or groups who were thought to reflect well on the founders, like Wendy Kopald and her women’s program, which Portugal helped her create.

While anyone involved in the development process would agree I had an important role, I was not surprised my request went nowhere, though I was a little surprised it was part of a lawyer’s letter threatening to sue me. So, out of site out of mind.

 

Your public statements are intentional and malicious acts calculated to inflict substantial harm upon the victories organization. Such conduct can form the basis for an award of compensatory and exemplary damages and would appear to violate the ethical standards of your profession. Moreover, the psychological injury you now allegedly finds a personally distressing is largely attributed to events, which occurred over 15 years ago. In that time you voluntarily chose to join victories as a senior leader, appeared with pocket shortest, Kevin Fitzpatrick, and other leaders of publicly distributed promotional DVD, referred a number of your psychotherapy clients to victories programs, helped recruit and train 60 L, and otherwise promoted an organization you now attack.

My response: I worked hard to make the organization successful. The public statements I make are to defend my own integrity, hold others accountable, and provide a history of the organizational dynamics to help explain why weekends do not often get the needed participants and the dyadic leader teams who fail, drift off into the sunset. My alternative efforts were to have leadership teams, not two men trying unrealistically to love each other as much as the two original teams.

Ones true understanding of themselves is a retrospective process…a looking back. It was not until 2011 that I was diagnosed with brain damage from trauma and I began to piece together enough information to better understand the dysfunctional system and people I had been associated with from 1990 and especially from 2003 to 2008. As the more outspoken member of the disenfranchised group, I receive information from others who have helped me create a more cohesive narrative of my experience.

Also, 15 years is not a long time for someone to realize they were blocking and diminishing the impact of some type of abuse. I think Victories would find it impossible to find any expert witness, should they sue me, who would think there was nothing wrong in pressuring me, a volunteer with a history of PTSD and depression who abstained from all drugs and alcohol to smoke pot and participate in the killing of a pet white rat from a pet store.

They can claim I was and am lying, but my guess is they know better. Kurt knew I was telling the truth, as I had disclosed this to him several years earlier and I also told my wife and a close friend contemporaneously (see the James Comey method).

So, I do understand they wished I wouldn’t reveal the truth about these events, but then I would betray myself further and all the volunteers who work so hard to make Victories successful, but wonder why it struggles to fill weekends.  Victories has been plagued by organizational silos (the dyadic leader teams) and an inability to create a cohesive and collaborative organization. 

Victories seems a prompt resolution to this matter of the parties aren’t able to achieve such a resolution, we will commence with a civil suit against you without further notice and if appropriate, file a complaint with the Illinois Department of financial and professional regulation. Please direct all future communications to me.

My response: OK. I hope they don’t sue, but I will stand up for myself. Like I told them, if anyone even threatens to sue me, I will immediately take legal action myself to protect my First Amendment rights and personal integrity.

And, as I have told a few of these men, I am still available to mediate these concerns. However, I am no longer willing to share the costs of mediation. 

A sincere apology can go a long way and I am not the one who needs to apologize.

Sincerely,

 

Lawyer  name

 

 

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