First he lost his wife to a Navy official, then his government contracts, and finally, in the name of national security, his lawsuit.
Robert Doss of McLean thinks that Uncle Sam has asked a bit too much of him, and today a federal appeals court agreed.
It began as a classic domestic triangle. Doss, president off a defense think tank in the Washington suburbs, lost his wife to a high-ranking, civilian Navy official.
Then, according to a suit filed in federal court by Doss' company, Farnsworth Cannon Inc., the official yanked the company's defense contracts and gave them to his new wife's employer.
All that was compounded when the Navy and the Justice Department promptly invoked national security and persuaded an Alexandria judge to dismiss Doss' claims. "You never saw so many (classified) stamps on them in your life," Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. told Doss' attorney after viewing a secret Navy affidavit on the case.
Today the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Doss' contention that Bryan had acted too hastily, holding that Doss should be allowed to attempt to prove his case without using the classified material.
The issues date from December 1976, when Frances Doss, Farnsworth Cannon's vice president, told her husband, Robert, that she wanted a separation, according to an affidavit Robert Doss filed with the court.
During the next week, Robert Doss says he consulted continually with his close friend and confidant, Alton B. Grimes of McLean, whom the Navy lists as a special assistant to the director of Navy program planning. Doss contends Grimes advised him to leave home and even helped him pack and move his things.
But at the end of the week, Doss claims he discovered Grimes had been having an affair with his wife. Grimes learned about the husband's discovery that same day and according to Doss' afffidavit, proceeded to call a Navy contracting officer and directed that all contracts between Doss' company and the Navy be canceled and not renewed.
The affidavit contends the contracts were allowed to lapse even though renewal was standard procedure, and the Navy later conceded that the company's work had been satisfacotry, according to Doss.
The affidavit also alleges that Frances Doss left her husband's company and went to work for an unidentified, newly formed corporation that later received the contracts that would have been routinely renewed with Farnsworth Cannon. Grimes subsequently married Francis Doss, according to a Farnsworth Cannon legal brief.
Farnsworth Cannon filed suit against Grimes in December 1978, charging he "did maliciously interfere with the planitiff's right to renew the contracts," actions the suit charged were "taken for personal reasons." It asked for $750,000 to compensate for the loss of the contracts, plus $500,000 in punitive damages.
It was two months later, according to Doss' lawyer, Edmund L. Walton Jr. of McLean, that "all of a sudden all hell broke loose."
When Walton attempted to interview Grimes in preparation for a trial, the Justice Department entered the case, seeking a dismissal on the grounds that Grimes' position and the nature of Farnsworth Cannon's four defense contracts were national security secrets.
"Three of the (four) contracts relate to exceptionally sensitive intelligence sources and methods whose disclosure would compromise highly guarded military and state secrets," Justice Department lawyer R. John Selbert told Judge Bryan. "The fourth is also classified for reasons relating to the protection of national security."
Seibert backed his arguments with an afffidavit from then-Navy Secretary W. Graham Claytor, delivered to the judge's chambers in a small metal safe in which the judge was asked to lock the document.
The Navy refused to comment today on the case. Grimes was not at his office, no did he answer his home telephone. Seibert says an internal Navy investigation cleared Grimes of any wrongdoing and that Grimes will deny the suit's allegations formally if and when the case comes to trial.
Doss' lawyer, Walton, contends the national security argument was just a ploy by Grimes and the Navy to avoid the suit. "It appears they want to stamp Alton Grimes top secret," Walton told Judge Bryan last year.
But Bryan agreed with Seibert's contention that without the top secret material, Doss could not pursue the case. Seibert noted that the case marked only the seventh time in the last decade that the federal government had attempted to invoke a military secret defense in court.
The appeals court today overturned Bryan, arguing that Farnsworth Cannon could try to pursue the suit. It suggested that Bryan hear the case without a jury and be prepared to hold all or part of the trial behind closed doors using, if necessary, a Navy stenographer with security clearance. c
"Such arrangements may not be feasible," the judge stated. "They will by their nature place a strain on the smooth functioning of the judicial process. It is better, however, for the proces to function under such a strain than not to function at all. . . ."