19 October 2004
Since this release appeared, USFSA notified Jackson and Pfenning that the grievance decision was being appealed. The appeal will be heard by those members of the USFSA Executive Committee who do not have a conflict either as a witness against Jackson and Pfenning, a prior or existing relationship with the ISU, or a prior or existing relationship with the WSF. This will greatly limit the number of individuals who can hear the appeal as most of the Executive Committee falls into one of these categories!
13 October 2004
The following press release speaks for itself, and sadly illustrates the way the negative political atmosphere in the ISU is poisoning skating world wide.
World Skating Federation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JON JACKSON AND RON PFENNING EXONERATED
United States Figure Skating Grievance Rejected by Independent Panel
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA. (October 13, 2004) -- On September 10, an
independent panel appointed by the United States Figure Skating
Association (USFSA) dismissed all charges against Jon Jackson, former
Chair of the USFSA's International and Ethics Committees, and Ron
Pfenning, Acting President of the World Skating Federation (WSF). The
charges named the two in a written grievance originally filed by Morry
Stillwell, former USFSA President and Chair of the International
Skating Union Grand Prix Management Commission. Stillwell alleged
that Jackson and Pfenning harmed the USFSA by violating rules and
bylaws of the association when they formed the WSF. The USFSA then
took over for Mr. Stillwell and prosecuted the grievances as its own.
Jackson and Pfenning united with other like-minded international
figure skating officials to create the WSF, an athlete-centered
alternative to the ISU. Their mission is to return integrity,
transparency and honor to the sport and create an environment where
athletes will be judged solely upon their merit. After hearing
evidence, including live testimony from witnesses for an entire day,
the independent panel ruled overwhelmingly in favor of Jackson and
Pfenning and dismissed all charges. The decision had remained
confidential pending a 30-day appeal period which expired on October
10 with no appeal taken by the USFSA.
The independent panel's written decision and the entire transcript of
the hearing can be reviewed at www.worldskating.org.
The transcript reveals a dysfunctional USFSA leadership that stoops to
acts of political retribution and reneges on its responsibility to the
athletes while pursuing election to ISU office. At the center of this
tragicomedy is Phyllis Howard, who in 2003 ran for, and was elected
to, the powerful ISU Council while she was still USFSA President. The
official record shows that her dual role created many conflicts of
interest between her obligations to the USFSA and the ISU. Even the
President of the ISU, Ottavio Cinquanta, questioned her about whether
she could fulfill both roles at once. USFSA President Charles Foster
compounded Howard's conflicts of interest by appointing her as the
oversight official for the Stillwell grievance against Jackson and
Pfenning, essentially placing an ISU official over an ethical
challenge to the ISU.
When Howard's duties have required difficult decisions to support the
USFSA and its athletes, she has opted instead to appease the ISU and
engage in political deals to secure her election to the ISU Council.
For example, the hearing testimony revealed that she refused to
support U.S. pair team Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman's request to
protest their placement in the 2002 Olympic Games, reasoning that
"[i]t is not worth the political risk." Howard told the athletes if
they were to protest they would have to "go it alone."
The transcript shows in chilling detail that the emergence of the WSF
terrified and divided the leaders of the USFSA. When Charles Foster
became President of the USFSA in May 2003, he immediately violated his
oft-stated campaign promise to unite the organization. Instead, he
vigorously pursued and encouraged a witch-hunt against Jackson,
Pfenning and their supporters. Sharon Watson, USFSA Secretary,
testifying at the hearing, verified that USFSA officials were watching
Jackson with binoculars at figure skating events to find out who was
associating with him. "The entire matter was replete with paranoia
and personal vendettas," according to Ron Pfenning.
USFSA Treasurer Joan Rozolis testified that the USFSA spent $200,000
fighting the WSF "in the filing of grievances and legal opinions."
"It is the ultimate hypocrisy that Chuck Foster would actively seek
the endorsement of the WSF in his campaign for President of the
USFSA," said Jackson, "and then turn around and seek to malign and
banish Ron and me. To spend some quarter-of-a-million dollars for a
political payback while simultaneously cutting funding to US athletes
The Stillwell grievance continued despite Jackson and Pfenning's
appeal to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for an
independent arbitration. According to John Ruger, USOC ombudsman, this
is the first time that a member federation has moved forward with an
internal grievance when an independent USOC-sanctioned arbitration
panel had been requested. A USOC arbitration would have guaranteed
certain due process rights and its arbitrators would have had no ties
to figure skating.
That did not surprise James Nguyen, Jackson and Pfenning's attorney:
"From the beginning, the USFSA denied various due process rights to my
clients, ignoring many of its own rules and the protections afforded
Mr. Jackson and Mr. Pfenning by the USOC. Yet, we prevailed because
the facts were so overwhelming in favor of my clients. In the end,
justice prevailed and the voices of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Pfenning were
not silenced." Nguyen is a partner in the Los Angeles office of the
national firm of Foley & Lardner LLP. Nguyen's firm handled the case
pro bono because Mr. Jackson and Mr. Pfenning are volunteers and to
help protect basic free speech rights.
"In establishing the WSF, Ron and I violated no USFSA rules or
bylaws," Jackson stated. "The WSF was a challenge to the ISU only.
It did not affect any member federation in any way." This costly,
retaliatory grievance took an astonishing 591 days to resolve.
The outcome of the Stillwell grievance is a victory for the most
fundamental of American values: freedom of speech and freedom of
association. Ron Pfenning gets the last word: "I am proud of the way
Jon and I stood up for athlete rights. This is a complete vindication
of our efforts."