"Hardly Fifty Shades of Leonard": Dispatches from the Pao vs Kleiner courtroom, Pt 6

By Dan Raile , written on March 19, 2015

From The News Desk

Final arguments in the case of Ellen Pao v. Kleiner will likely be heard around the middle of next week, or so Defense Attorney Jessica Perry tells me. In the meantime, following Pao's testimony last week, the courtroom proceedings have been humming along nicely, with lots of new faces but few fresh bombshells.

In the past few days, the defense has churned its way through three expert witnesses, three senior Kleiner partners, and one good friend of the firm, a man called Jody Gessow who is easily identified as a non-venture capitalist by the presence of a tie around his neck. Gessow's testimony was short but interesting, him having been aboard Ted Schlein’s jet in 2011 when, Pao has alleged, Schlein, Gessow and Dan Rosensweig of Chegg discussed off-color topics in her discomfited presence. On Wednesday, lawyers for Kleiner asked Gessow about that flight.

Gessow’s version of the events makes the whole thing sound decidedly PG-13, a version that mostly aligns with that of Schlein, who testified earlier in the trial. Schlein, however, had admitted that Rosensweig had talked about “cute” Eastern European staff at a favored NYC members’ club, which he chalked up to Rosensweig’s being “boisterous” and “a funny guy.” Gessow begged to differ. Not only did that conversation never happen, but Rosensweig isn’t boisterous. As for the remainder of the conversation, the men were talking primarily about their spouses and children, not their sexual preferences. Sure, Gessow may have been taking a cocktail of painkillers at the time for a nerve condition, and may have “tasted” the wine the other men were drinking, but when it comes to what was discussed on the flight, he has crystal-clear recollection.

As with many of Pao’s allegations, those concerning the events of that trip are subject to wholesale reinterpretation by the defense, since nothing was captured on paper and nothing brought forward by Pao at the time. This has allowed the firm’s partners to morph from good ol’ boys to boyscouts in front of the jury’s eyes, under the able guidance of Kleiner attorneys Lynne Hermle and Jessica Perry.

Jessica Perry: Was there any discussion of Playboy Mansion during the flight?

Gessow: Yes. I’m a private equity investor, and the Playboy company had traded down basically to the value of its real estate. I’d been following their business for years –one of the private equity companies I was familiar with had purchased Playboy Enterprises, and one of the passengers had visited the Playboy Mansion around that time.

Perry: Was there any discussion of the Playboy Mansion beyond as a business deal?

Gessow: It was not even a business deal, just business interest because of how low its value had fallen? 

Perry: Was there discussion of Victoria’s Secret?

Gessow: Dan [Rosensweig] had maybe talked about going to Fashion Week and bringing his daughter.

Perry: was there any discussion of the model’s bodies?

Gessow: No.

Perry: What was discussed on the plane?

Gessow: A lot of it was about family and kids. Regarding fashion week, I was talking about one of my daughters who was interested in it, and how she was looking for a job at the time, and also about my son who is a Navy Seal and was in training at the time. Between testimonies, I've been taking time to catch up on my reading. Specifically, I've now read all 150 poems contained in the Book of Longing, written by Leonard Cohen and presented as a Valentine's Day gift to Ellen Pao by Kleiner Partner, Randy Komisar.

Like most of Cohen’s work, they are a frank portrait of one man’s traffic with the Sacred and the Profane, with plenty of odes to each. The poems and Cohen’s line drawings have been the subject of some debate in the case. Pao contends the gift was sexually suggestive and inappropriate, due to Cohen’s sometimes raunchy verse and sketches of naked women.

Fortunately, Komisar took to the stand on Tuesday to clear up any confusion. His wife, his “trusted advisor on these things and a big fan of Leonard Cohen”, had bought the book on Amazon. He hadn’t read it. His reason for giving Pao a Valentine’s gift was Pao’s own fault, really, because she had given him unreciprocated Christmas presents and “she was quick to take slight.”

Lynne Hermle: Can you read the inscription there?

Randy Komisar: It’s dated February 14, 2007 and says ‘To Ellen, a taste of Dharma Bum [sic] to remind that the Dharma breathes in and out and is nothing special. Best, Randy.’

Hermle: I learn things all the time. What is Dharma Bum?

Komisar: It is the name of a book by Jack Kerouac ... it’s his fictionalized account of his friendship with poet Gary Snyder. It introduced his readers to Buddhism.

Hermle: what is the Dharma?

Komisar: The Dharma is the theory of truth, the philosophy of life in Buddhism.

Hermle: What does it mean “The dharma breathes in and out and is nothing special?”

Komisar: Well, it can be off-putting to think about things as holy or precious. The Dharma is every day, it is breathing in and out. For somebody new to buddhism, it’s simple, it’s very accessible. Tom Gallagher is the senior member of San Francisco’s "Conspiracy of Beards," an a cappella men’s choir that sings only Leonard Cohen songs. Would Gallagher consider the book to be an inappropriate gift from one venture capitalist to another?

“I’m sure venture capitalists have some useful function in society, but I don’t think they are as important as I gather they think they are," he told me by phone. "I’m just not that interested in the contretemps of their office culture.”

Still, he was able to explain that “the woman in the little black dress across the room is as important [to Cohen] as the meaning of life, and he’s never far from that.”

For more elucidation I turned to San Francisco-based writer and rock historian Sylvie Simmons, who published a biography of Cohen in 2012. Simmons told me by email that:

 “My ears did perk up when Ms. Pao brought poetry, in particular Leonard Cohen's, into the argument – an upmarket Twinkie defense, or in this case attack... It's not a secret that Cohen writes about women, often naked women, in his poetry and songs, and there's drawings of a few as well, but Book of Longing is hardly Fifty Shades of Leonard.”

Finally, with my deadline looming, I tried to get in touch with Leonard Cohen himself. I was hoping Cohen might tell me that his poems were far too raunchy for the workplace and that they constitute a grossly inappropriate gift for one venture capitalist to bestow upon another.

I'm also keen to know if Cohen has been following the trial; if he knows more about Pao than Pao knows about him. Last week, Hermle asked Pao whether she knew that Cohen wrote the song “Hallelujah”, or that the Book of Longing was a “highly acclaimed book of poetry.” Pao said she did not.