Let’s Get To Know Shawna Meyer

On April 20, 2005, Shawna Meyer became the first prosecution witness called in the Enron Broadband Trial. Her testimony was strange for two reasons: she looked like a flake and she was proven to be a liar. Perhaps that in itself isn’t strange in a case so imbued with lies, distortions and improvable allegations, but what is strange is that the prosecution opened with her.

In his book, John Kroger says that it was Shawna Meyer and Bill Collins who shaped his view of EBS. Not Joe Hirko, the CEO, or Scott Yeager the strategist, or Rex Shelby who actually wrote the software. No, these two EBS malcontents with axes to grind were Kroger’s star witnesses. As you will see, she was not a strong witness.

Shawna Meyer began her career at Enron Communications in March of 1999 and left one year later, in March 2000. Her title when she was hired was Senior Systems Engineer. That’s actually a misnomer, however, since her degree was in psychology, earned from Lewis & Clark. Mr. Yeager’s attorney Tony Canales had a great line during the cross-examination: “Now, Ms. Meyer, if you had left me with the impression that you were actually an engineer I would be wrong, wouldn’t I?”

Yes, Mr. Canales, you would be wrong – by any definition of the term “engineer”. (Also, weirdly, when Canales asked her that question, she replied that her title was “Senior Defense Engineer”. Make of that what you will.)

Though Meyer had a respectable title, her grasp of basic technology was limited. When asked to describe “fiber optics” during trial, she said, “It’s kind of like when you go to the Discover store and you see that really cool thing that has all the really pretty colors at the ends. Those are actually fiber.”

No, really. She actually said that.

When asked to define “hardware” her answer was positively cringe-inducing : “In the computer world, it’s my favorite thing that when you have a really bad day, what you want to take your frustrations out on and give it a good swift kick or, you know, you can take a look at what’s sitting next to me on the stand, which would be considered a piece of hardware.”

By these two statements alone, we know this girl is far outclassed by folks who are elbow-deep in the fiber and hardware, such as Scott Yeager and Joe Hirko, and the brilliant BOS engineers like Rex Shelby, Larry Ciscon, Mark Palmer, David Berberian, Ellis Giles and others. Hirko, Yeager and the Modulus team are far superior in terms of having a deep, off-hand knowledge not just of the Broadband Operating System but also technology in general. Ask Scott Yeager what fiber is. I bet he doesn’t tell you to go to the Discover store.

I admit that is an unfair comparison. The men I just mentioned are super-geniuses of the highest order, men who are extremely, deeply dedicated to technology – pure scientists, I would call them. Larry Ciscon, for instance, is actually Dr. Ciscon; he earned a doctorate from Rice University, a fact he would not ever tell you himself, partly because I’m sure he’s too modest and partly because he wouldn’t want to embarrass you if you were describing hardware as “something to take out your frustrations on.” So Shawna Meyer illustrates the knowledge disparity between the men who envisioned and built the BOS and those who would accuse them of not being competent enough to build the system.

While at Enron Communications, Ms. Meyer worked for Brett Watson, who worked for Dave Berberian, who worked for Rex Shelby – so she was several levels below Mr. Shelby in the company org chart. And yet at trial she was asked repeatedly about Mr. Shelby’s performance at the company.

Mr. Shelby, as I’ve described before, co-founded Modulus Software with David Berberian and Larry Ciscon. While at Modulus, they invented InterAgent. InterAgent was used by organizations such as NASA to control robotics, the Denver Airport baggage claim, and Rice University (I assume to control the professors, but I might be allowing my personal opinion to cloud some facts there.) InterAgent was a messaging middleware. This piece of software, incidentally, is shipped in every single Sun server in the entire world, and has been for years. Sun licensed it for $10 million, so it must have had some value to them, correct? It certainly must have existed, and functioned properly and beneficially on the Sun servers. Inktomi also licensed it.

One of the allegations at trial was that Shelby and his engineers couldn’t get InterAgent to work on the BOS or on Ms. Meyer’s product, Media Cast. Cliff Stricklin, attorney for the United States, asked Shawna Meyer, the girl with the IQ of salt, about InterAgent at trial. She had two very colorful things to say about it:

1. That it was called “pixie dust” or “secret sauce” because if you just have a little it will make everything better.

2. There was something called the “InterAgent Dance”. I refuse to summarize. I will simply quote:

“It was called the InterAgent dance because you were pretty much tap dancing around the facts. I mean, you weren’t actually committing to the use of the InterAgent technology;
but you tapped around, danced around, here’s what InterAgent is supposed to do, here is what InterAgent can deliver. But it is our intention to integrate with InterAgent down the
line. So, I kind of likened that to that little frog you’ve seen with the hat and cane that like goes across your screen tap dancing away. That’s what people internally called the InterAgent dance.”

Nobody else talks about this InterAgent dance. Furthermore I’ve never seen a little frog with a hat and cane that “goes dancing across [my] screen tap dancing away.” Thus, I have no choice but to diagnose Ms. Meyer with a mental illness: she’s seeing things that just are not there and can’t see things that are in plain sight.

So Modulus invented this piece of software, licensed it to Sun, NASA, Rice University, the Denver Airport baggage claim and then simply couldn’t make it work once they got to Enron. But not only that, the government was asking the jury to believe this based on the testimony of a person who can not even articulate what “hardware” means. Let me be clear: there is nothing whatsoever wrong with not knowing how to analogize the terms “hardware”, “fiber”, “software”, and “application” – unless you claim to be an engineer while attempting to discredit people who are legitimately engineers.

The government seems to acknowledge its own misstep by asking Shawna Meyer about frivolous things, such as an Enron brochure and other marketing materials and asking if the brochures were truthful. None of the five defendants were accused of lying in a brochure. But that’s what Meyer testified to.

She also got in a bit of trouble for lying. In December 1999, Ms. Meyer made a video tape to be shown at the January 20, 2000 video conference. This is from the official transcript of the video, which was an exhibit at trial:

FEMALE SPEAKER: And tell me who else can do that.

MS. MEYER: Our competitors, Ecomi, Sandpiper, I think that there’s just a lot of — there’s a lot of misinformation in the industry as to the actual capacity, and so we take a great deal of pride and effort in ensuring that we can do exactly what we say we can do.

FEMALE SPEAKER: Can you say that no one else can do that?

MS. MEYER: No one else can really –

FEMALE SPEAKER: You can’t say that, okay.

MS. MEYER: Honestly, yeah. I know they can’t, because of the Drew Carey event. We took information from that event.

FEMALE SPEAKER: Okay. Go ahead and start. Say, “I know we’re the.”

MS. MEYER: I know we’re the only — the only competitor right now that can actually fulfill a hundred thousand simultaneous streams. During the — the event we actually did competitor analysis, and we — we meet our commitments every time with all of our partners, and I know that other vendors have not.

Then she testified at trial:

Q. When you joined Enron Communications, to the best of your knowledge, did Enron have a network?

A. Yes.

Q. From what you knew, did the network work?

A. Yes.

Q. And it had these components that we are talking about here today?

A. Yes.

Q. Was it the only network like that in America?

A. No.

Q. Who else had a network similar?

A. MCI WorldCom, AT&T, SBC, Akamai, Broadcast.com, Real Networks.

Well rock me Amadaeus. If she’s telling the truth in this video, she’s lying during trial. If she’s lying during the video, she’s doing exactly what the government accused Rex Shelby of doing and lying to analysts in a video. Ms. Meyer has a credibility problem. But wait! It gets better! From the trial transcript:

Q. Was everything you said in that videotape, was it truthful?

A. Yes.

Oh. So she lied at trial when she denied Enron’s product was unique. Just keeping up with all the weird analogies and lies is a full-time job. But the defense attorneys were up to the task. They tore into her like a Sunday ham.

Mr. Ramfjord, who was one of Joe Hirko’s attorneys, asked about the pixie dust comments:

Q. Now, you also talked about some other terms today, InterAgent being considered to be pixie dust or secret sauce or the like. Do you recall that testimony?

A. Yes.

Q. And that’s not something — that terminology didn’t appear in any e-mails that you recall to mind right now, did it?

A. Not that I could recall.

Ramfjord asks if the term “pixie dust” was ever used in front of Mr. Hirko, and Meyer says she doesn’t know. Then something interesting happens. Ramfjord says,
“I take it that you can’t recall any specific instances in which that terminology was used in front of Mr. Shelby?”

Shawna Meyer replies, “No, I mean, I know that I wouldn’t have done it because I enjoyed being employed.”

Fascinating. Meyer would not have made a joke about InterAgent in front of Shelby because she would have ostensibly been fired for that comment. Why? If Shelby knew it was crap, wouldn’t he have laughed along with her? Or was he a serious engineer who actually took pride in his accomplishments, InterAgent being one of them? But I don’t think either scenario explains her answer to my satisfaction. I think like her “dancing frog” comment, it was a semi-smart ass thing to say to give support to lie she was telling. When I lived in DC I dated an FBI agent for a little bit. I remember begging him to tell me how to know when somebody was lying. He said, “If you ask a series of questions, and the respondent gives more detail to one than the others, pay attention.” That’s what she did here. She denied that she said this joke in front of Hirko, and after Shelby she is asked about Yeager, and she denies, again, that she ever said this in front him. But with Shelby she adds that smart-ass remark about being fired. Something about it screams that she’s making this whole event up out of whole-cloth and used that comment to appear overly casual.

Ramfjord doesn’t need any super-FBI tricks, however, because he has a record to refer back to see all the places she lied. Such as the grand jury.

Q. Do you recall testifying in front of the grand jury in this matter on the 14th day of November, 2000?

A. I do remember the grand jury. They kind of intimidated me a bit.

Q. Do you recall being under oath at that time?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you recall being asked the following question and giving the following answer: Was the Media Cast development process relatively smooth or would you describe it as
rocky? How would you characterize it?

ANSWER: It was relatively smooth. Most of the development was done through Real Networks. Is that true?

A. Yes.

Q. So, your testimony today that it was a rocky process was not true?

Whoa. I would not want to tangle with Ramfjord. That he caught her on an inconsistency with her grand jury testimony was just terrifying and fabulous. He has an amazing memory.

All the attorneys are quick and Tony Canales walks away with the Funniest Attorney Award, but Ramfjord had a couple of nice one-liners. John Bloomer, another prosecution witness, sent an email with the subject heading “Celebrate!” on the day after the January 20, 2000 analyst conference. Shawna Meyer noted that he sent it at “6:10am; he was up early.”

Ramfjord replied, “Maybe he was excited.”

Edwin Tomko, counsel for Rex Shelby, peeled back a layer of her personality and got some histrionics with a simple question:

Q. That was approximately what day, that demonstration?

A. December 23, 1999.

Q. And you remember that day specifically?

A. I do because I flew back that evening and almost died in the plane, so it’s pretty easy to remember that day when your plane is landing and another plane is taking off in your
landing runway and they have to do an emergency –

Q. Who prepared that demonstration?

Had I been Tomko, I’d have let her go. Just wind her up and let her tell us all day long about how she “almost died in the plane.” But Mr. Tomko is an honorable attorney and has more respect for the Court’s time than I, and probably has no personal desire to humiliate the poor witness. Thank heavens I am not thusly constrained.

Canales also revealed something legally important: Ms. Meyer traded her stock on inside information. She was never prosecuted for this, of course, but she plainly admitted to selling her stock based on information she had that the executives were not acting ethical.

Shawna Meyer was not considered a serious engineer at Enron Communications. None of her peers raved about her intelligence, her ability to get things done or her great personality. Ms. Meyer was slimy at Enron and she was slimy when she left. She’d been sleeping with Jim Iverson, and Bill Collins – who is next on our “Get To Know” series, by the way – hired them both away to start another company, which was explicitly forbidden in all their employment agreements. There is something a little desperate about Shawna Meyer.

In summary:

Shawna Meyer lied at trial.

Shawna Meyer’s testimony that the Broadband Operating System did not exist was directly and passionately refuted by engineers and other witnesses who used the technology.

Shawna Meyer lied about “pixie dust” and “the InterAgent dance”.

Shawna Meyer is not an engineer by education or certification.

Shawna Meyer admitted to trading on insider information.

Shawna Meyer admitted to Mr. Tomko during re-cross that she would lie to keep her job (one must ask: will she also lie to stay out of the government’s cross-hairs for insider trading?)

Shawna Meyer was a weak witness but very typical of the prosecution in this case.

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