DHHR allows suspended lawyers to return
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Department of Health and Human Resources' two most senior lawyers were back at work this week after nearly five months.
However, they still are not allowed in their own offices or to touch some of the legal work the state pays them a combined $180,000 a year to do.
DHHR Acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo put the lawyers - Susan Perry, DHHR's deputy secretary for legal affairs, and Jennifer Taylor, its general counsel - on paid "reassignment" in mid-July.
A third official, assistant secretary John Law, who handled public relations for DHHR, is also on leave.
The three questioned why DHHR decided to award a multimillion-dollar marketing contract to the highest bidder.
The department did an internal investigation of the trio this summer and fall. But so far, no charges have been filed, and the department has no plans to make the results of the investigation public.
Perry and Taylor were called back to work this week. But they were not returned to their offices in One Davis Square in downtown Charleston. Instead, the two were sent to DHHR's cubicle-filled, mostly windowless offices across Capitol Street in the Diamond Building.
Nor are the two doing what they were hired to do: provide full-time, top-level legal advice to the state's largest and most complex agency.
"They are not back doing what they were doing before," said the pair's attorney, Parkersburg-based Walt Auvil.
"I don't know exactly what they are doing, but they are or were at least for some time back in that Diamond building doing something - I'm not sure exactly - but they are not back at the jobs they had before."
Perry is paid more than $96,000 a year and Taylor makes $83,000.
DHHR's outside counsel, Chuck Bailey, said Perry and Taylor were given unspecified legal work related to the Medicaid program.
"There was a project they had to do where the files could not be removed from the office," he said.
Perry and Taylor hired Auvil to sue DHHR on their behalf. In two separate whistleblower lawsuits, the pair blasts their department for a "track record of errors" involving multimillion-dollar contracts. Perry and Taylor said they had tried to correct or keep the agency from making those errors.
Law is not participating in the whistleblower lawsuit.
In a response filed in November, DHHR argued Perry and Taylor are not whistleblowers. The department said Perry and Taylor haven't been retaliated against because the two have been able to keep their titles and their pay.
According to DHHR, the "only limitations placed on their ability to work is the prohibition from entering their offices, must work from home, and may only call (DHHR's human resources director)."
Elements of that limitation obviously have changed.
The situation has dragged on since Fucillo kicked the trio out of their offices in mid-July.
The marketing contract, estimated to be worth $3.5 million, was awarded to Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine for one year's work. To pick Fahlgren, DHHR passed over three lower bidders.
Perry and Taylor said they were so concerned about the decision to award the contract, they warned other DHHR officials they could not go to court to defend the contract if it was awarded to Fahlgren and challenged by one of the other bidders.
But DHHR's inspector general recently produced a report that suggests Law, Perry and Taylor attempted to illegally interfere with the awarding of the contract.
Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants has hundreds of pages of documents from the inspector general. But as of Monday evening, Plants still had not decided if the investigation's findings are enough for him to pursue criminal charges against Law, Perry or Taylor.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has straddled the fence on the situation. He hired Fucillo to act as DHHR's secretary, but Perry and her husband, Logan Circuit Judge Roger Perry, are acquaintances of the Tomblins from Logan County.
The governor issued a statement to say authorities should "get to the bottom of this in a speedy and responsible manner." That was on Sept. 12.