In a saga comparable to Bleek House, Charles Dickens’ classic novel about a legal case that would never end, Bill Moore, a Texas businessman, has waged his own never-ending legal war against the United States government.
At the center of the drama, which has now dragged on for 25 years, is an agency that prides itself on being boring in its routine: the U.S. Postal Service. When Moore dared criticize the organization, he learned just how vindictive its management could be. Moreover, when he tried to seek retribution, he discovered that it’s all but impossible to hold the government accountable for its actions.
Moore was an all-American success story. He was a baseball player at Georgetown University. For five years he served in the Army Airborne Rangers, becoming company commander of the 27th Infantry Wolfhounds. At 22 he found himself in Vietnam, where he survived combat deployments near Saigon.
After his military service Moore entered business. In 1982 Trammel Crow, a real-estate developer, recruited him to move to Dallas to become CEO of Recognition Equipment, Inc., the Irving-based high-tech company on whose board Crow sat. Moore turned around the fledgling company so quickly that Forbes magazine, to quote one newspaper, “hailed his turnaround wizardry.”
By 1988 Moore had made the publicly traded company a huge success, gaining a national reputation for himself. President Ronald Reagan appointed him to his Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations, which featured CEOs from the nation’s largest corporations.
But Moore’s fate was about to change. Part of Recognition Equipment’s success had been based on securing government contracts. When the Postal Service began to consider purchasing new scanning technology, Moore suggested that they buy his optical-reading technology that used a five-digit zip code. Instead, the Postal Service purchased technology that required a nine-digit zip code. That the company that won the bid was German, not American — at a time when the government was imploring consumers to “Buy American” — only made matters worse.
So Moore fought back. He hired a consulting group, GAI, and launched an assault in the media against the Postal Service, criticizing management for buying inferior technology and for failing to support American businesses. He lobbied members of Congress to force the Postal Service to rethink their selection of a German firm. The Postal Service management was livid, and when John Gnau Jr., GAI’s chairman, was revealed to be caught up in a kickback scandal (he was bribing a postal official for favors), six postal inspectors targeted Moore. Though Moore was uninvolved in Gnau’s scheme, the government indicted him.
Moore’s 54-page indictment, prosecutors claimed, was the result of a “painstakingly thorough” three-and-a-half-year investigation. In the six-week trial, which took place in federal court in the District of Columbia in 1989, the government called 84 witnesses and produced 50,000 pages of documents. But Judge George Revecomb was incredulous over what was happening. He ruled against the government before the defense presented its case. “The government’s evidence is insufficient, even when viewed in the light most favorable to it,” Revecomb wrote. “In fact, some of the government’s evidence … points toward innocent conduct of the defendants.”
The case might have been thrown out, but the damage was done. Moore had spent $9 million defending himself. After the indictment his company was barred from doing business with the government. As his company faltered, its stock price plunged, making it the object of a hostile takeover. New management forced Moore out. Under stress, Moore had a heart attack — all of this for a crime he didn’t commit.
Furious, Moore fought back. In 1992 he sued the government for malicious prosecution, singling out six postal inspectors who had come after him. Moore claimed that the inspectors knew he was innocent but had had the government prosecute him anyway — just to shut him up. The inspectors argued that, as government workers, they had limited immunity, protecting them from civil action.
The government launched a stall campaign like few others. The inspectors refused to turn over documents. Government lawyers secured countless delays based on technicalities. The case endured five appeals plus an appearance before the United States Supreme Court. The case dragged on for so long that two of the six defendants died. In 2010 an appeals court wrote that the evidence against the defendants even contained “the proverbial smoking gun,” a memorandum written by a postal inspector admitting that the reason Moore was prosecuted was because he’d waged “a media and political campaign to discredit USPS management.”
At last, in 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Moore must be given his day in court. “It has taken 25 years, a criminal trial, eleven appellate judges as well as participating members of the United States Supreme Court — none of whom has rejected his claim as a matter of law — to get to the point that a jury will finally hear and decide if government officials engaged in pay back because the plaintiff sought to do business with the government,” Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote in the opinion. “To say that this has not been the government’s finest hour is a colossal, and lamentable, understatement.”
Jury selection is ongoing. What motivated Moore in his now-historic fight against the government? “If they can do this to me,” he has said, “they can do it to anyone. I can’t let them get away with it. I won’t let them get away with it.”
For more information, go to www.justiceforbillmoore.org.