By Paul DeRienzo
The drama surrounding lawyer and Village district leader Arthur Schwartz took a dark turn in March as more of his clients screamed foul at the counselors heavy handed legal tactics. As readers to WestView News know Arthur Schwartz is a long time contributor to the paper who fell out with the paper’s founder George Capsis when Schwartz allegedly tried to walk away with the publication.
The resulting conflict led to a blizzard of articles and angry letters to various publications and a possible lawsuit against Schwartz as well as a competing paper led by Schwartz using dissident staff.
Rachel Barr of WBAI says the loss of WBAI station because of Schwartz will be met by more street protests.
Photo credit: A Dope Artist
The brouhaha eventually fueled a series of ongoing protests at Schwartz’ Broadway offices that united a growing network of folks with a bone to pick with the self-described labor lawyer. Among the participants besides Capsis were Act-Up stalwart Dana Beal and members of not-for-profit radio station WBAI.
It’s unusual coalescence between the iconic radio station, made famous by broadcasting the “George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television” skit and prompting a legal case on obscenity that went to the United Supreme Court, and the popular community newspaper founded by the 95-year old irascible publisher.
The two share one common feature, a relationship with Arthur Schwartz that turned sour.
WBAI activist Allie Murphy says Schwartz wants to sell valuable property belonging to the Pacifica Foundation, WBAI’s owner, while undermining Los Angeles sister station KPFK. She says the reasons that Schwartz, who is the Foundation’s legal counsel, is pushing the sale is to get paid $150,000 he’s owed.
In an exclusive interview Schwartz tells this reporter selling the KPFK building is a good idea. He claims commercial LA property is not appreciating in value because of COVID and the money is needed to retire several million dollars in debts. The question nobody has been asking is how Schwartz came to have such outsized influence with the Pacifica Foundation.
According to Schwartz he came to the job of representing Pacifica when he blocked the Foundation from firing his client at the time, current WBAI General Manager Berthold Reimers, who rewarded him with a show on WBAI, until Pacifica took WBAI off the air for a month in a dispute that made it to Federal court after Schwartz filed for a restraining order returning WBAI to its staff.
The Pacifica Foundation is the outfit that owns WBAI and four other stations, KPFA in the San Francisco Bay Area, KPFK in Los Angeles, WPFW in Washington, DC and KPFT in Houston, Texas as well as New York based WBAI. According to numerous observers, the Foundation failed over the past two decades to modernize its 60s radicalism and match the needs of current movements like Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter. Insiders say the management dream is mainstreaming WBAI but those attempts have severely divided its fractious community into bitterly opposing camps.
A former KPFA board member Steve Zeltzer says “there’s been an effort to corporatize Pacifica, and make it more like NPR (National Public Radio).” Zeltzer adds some board members (all five stations have an outsized 25-member board that elects members to a similarly sized national board) “especially at KPFA are of the view it should not be a democratic institution, but self-appointed boards.”
Zeltzer says the biggest problem is that the “corporatizers” oppose covering live protests and have punished or removed broadcasters who promote actions against police brutality, white supremacists and other demonstrations. The Program Director once exclaimed to me when I was guest hosting Bob Fass’ show ‘Radio Unnameable’ “are you trying to get 3000 to come to a protest?” I answered, “A lot more than that if possible.” I was removed from the show soon after despite strong listener support.
The conflict within Pacifica came to a head in October 2019, when a newly hired Pacifica Executive Director John Verniel and others showed up at WBAI’s Brooklyn studios ripping equipment from the walls, shuttling down the station and replacing programming with canned broadcasts originating from California. WBAI was off the air for a month during frantic legal proceedings and the lawyer representing the station against Pacifica was Arthur Schwartz.
Afterwards the Pacifica National Board voted to fire Verniel, but Zeltzer says the board members “were never held accountable.” The problem says Zeltzer is the same people who remain on the Pacifica National Board who wanted to shut down WBAI and they want to delay elections by ignoring bylaws that require a board member to leave office after six years. Adding, the lawyer for the faction trying to eliminate elections for board members is Arthur Schwartz.
Schwartz says he learned about Pacifica’s byzantine election process from his experience suing the Foundation on behalf of his predecessor General Counsel Dan Silverman who Schwartz says was owed $100,000. money that came after a default judgment. Schwartz agrees that Pacifica has a history of not paying its lawyers.
“I haven’t been paid in a year, 600 hours of work, and you know what my grand hourly rate is? $250 an hour,” says Schwartz.
But Schwartz continues, “My recommendation for selling the [KPFK] building wasn’t for getting my 150 grand, believe me. Schwartz says the Pacifica Foundation is in deep debt and has no cash to hire any national staff except for Executive Director Stephanie Wells, who Schwartz says he helped get the job. He says paid staff are more important than volunteers for bringing in cash.
Attorney Arthur Schwartz was picketed at his office at 225 Broadway for attempting to sell the offices of KPFK in Los Angeles to pay his legal fees of $150.000. Photo credit: Dusty Berke
Zeltzer disagrees that Schwartz has any altruistic motives. He says some Board members “want to sell off parts of the network” and that Schwartz has a “conflict of interest” because he’s owed money.
Zeltzer claims Schwartz is “only going to get paid at this point by the sell-off of the assets of Pacifica.” The asset in question is a building used as a studio for KPFK in Los Angeles. It’s already been listed by Pacifica for about $5 million. According to Zeltzer some of the Board members pushing the sale “voted for John Verniel” before his attempted WBAI takeover.
Who is attorney Arthur Schwartz?
A 2006 book Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promise by Robert Fitch describes Schwartz as resembling a “Wheaton terrier in a drip-dry suit,” adding “when this legal terrier sinks his teeth into an adversary’s ankle, the pain has just begun.” The excerpt continues, “[Schwartz’s’] attack escalates in a flurry of lawsuits and biting newspaper leaks. It often ends with the mangled union leader limping off into retirement and Schwartz’s client in his place.”
Fisk goes on to recall the story of how back in the 1990s Schwartz helped a “reform” candidate in a major city union. According to Fisk a reform lawyer’s job is to ward off suits from opponents while collecting “lucrative retainers.” In one 1999 incident Schwartz, “made Gus Bevona, the powerful boss of the SEIU’s Local 32BJ, disappear…,” by exchanging the dropping of a suit in return for Bevona’s retirement with a “$1.5 million settlement.”
A lawsuit that has been wending its way through the courts accuses Schwartz of engineering a “stolen” election for presidency of the Transit Workers Union Local 100 in 2021. Train Conductor and Local 100 Executive Board member Evangeline Byars alleges in federal court filings that a union president, Anthony Utano engaged in “voter suppression tactics,” to disqualify her just days before the election was held.
Byars argues she was cleared to run by the TWU Election Committee with Schwartz as the committees lawyer. Byars claims her dues were current as of April 28th, 2021, but two days later the union said “she had lost her good standing for failure to pay her dues.” It was one week of dues, paid more than a month late. Byars says the union failed to send her a required 30-days notice for unpaid dues. She sued claiming her disqualification was unreasonable, but initially lost.
Schwartz represented Utano, the Transit Workers Union and its Local 100 simultaneously in the case.
In an email dated April 28th, 2021, before she was disqualified, Byars asks Local 100 Secretary-Treasurer Earl Phillips to provide her with instructions on applying for a waiver of the dues requirement. She writes in the email that no one in the office would help her.
In a video posted to her website shortly after, she was disqualified Byars states directly, “this election was stolen.” She continues saying the theft was “orchestrated by Arthur Schwartz and the election committee.” Schwartz cooked up a “well devised scheme… that violated the by-laws of the unions to “disqualify members who wanted to participate in this coming election cycle.” She accuses Schwartz and the election committee of the union of changing the rules to “suppress the vote and block who could participate” in the election.
In a recent interview Byars tells the West View News that her suit is still in the courts and she maintains the Svengali figure behind her disqualification in the election was Attorney Schwartz.
But Schwartz says Byars has nobody but herself to blame. “She had a month to pay her dues,” he says, “she was given notice, the rules are the rules, fair or unfair, and if you are going to enforce a rule fairly so it isn’t subject to manipulation improperly, you enforce the rule. If you have to cross every T and for every I. You cross every T and dot every I.”
WBAI listeners and other activists have been gathering for weekly protests at Arthur Schwartz’s offices at 225 Broadway near City Hall. In both actions 95-year old West View News publisher George Capsis has attended. He has his own bone to pick with Schwartz who Capsis claims has “attempted to copy my newspaper and take it over.” Capsis says Schwartz wrote to the papers “key writers,” accusing the paper of a right-ward drift to siphon off writers to a new paper and trying to “cancel me out.”
Schwartz, disagrees. He says he represented George in several cases including one case where Capsis allegedly slapped a cop. A case that led to a $50,000 settlement against the city for a broken eye-socket.
Schwartz says Capsis asked for his help and the attorney offered to purchase a 1% stake in the event Capsis died. Schwartz says his small stake would allow him to keep control of the paper in the hands of the staff.
But according to Capsis, the contract with Schwartz for 1% ownership of the paper was never fulfilled. Capsis says he checked with his accountant and Schwartz “never satisfied the requirements” of the deal. Schwartz “runs for public office almost every year,” says Capsis, adding, “the city has a program where they match the funds the individual candidate raises to run for office.” Capsis says, “Arthur had in mind giving me 1% when he ran for office and the city handed him money he would give me a percentage of that money.”
Capsis still publishes the bimonthly paper, while Schwartz publishes his own monthly called “The Village View,” The most recent issue has a cover story about the fascist Proud Boys attacks on Drag Story Hour events in the city this Spring.
Schwartz says he’s too busy to publish a newspaper and is looking to hand over the publisher job to a progressive replacement. He lays the blame on what he claims is the decline of The WestView News on Capsis’ caregiver Dusty Berke. He accuses Berke of sleeping in the same bed as Capsis.
Berke responded that “it’s appalling how Schwartz, tried to taint my behavior by insinuating I sleep in bed with George.” Berke explains, “I sleep in bed fully clothed except for my shoes every night, because George got COVID and I took care of him through COVID.” Berke adds, “Arthur, who knows I’m not f****g George, wants me to have that reputation.”
Meanwhile, WBAI board member Rachel Barr is also a producer at the station and says the loss of WBAI or any other Pacifica station because of Schwartz, or any other mischief by station managers, will be met by street protests.
Paul DeRienzo is news director for the Progressive Radio Network and host of a news magazine The Torch. You can catch The Torch on PRN.live every Sunday at 1PM EST. You can also hear Paul’s news on his website paulderienzo.com or on Apple podcasts, on TuneIn.com and at his page on Soundcloud. Search The News with Paul DeRienzo for the latest episode.