State agency forms defense team for whistleblower lawsuit
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's been more than four months since the state's largest agency barred three of its senior employees from their offices.
Since then, the Department of Health and Human Resources has paid more than $80,000 for the trio while they are on "administrative reassignment" and doing work from home.
Now, outside lawyers for DHHR plan to defend the agency against lawsuits by two of those employees.
The filing could amount to DHHR's most detailed explanation of the situation, which has been festering since summer. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked for a "speedy" resolution to the situation. That was in September.
In the meantime, DHHR acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo or Human Resources Director Harold Clifton have repeatedly extended the trio's "reassignment" by 30-day increments.
Charles Bailey and Dawn George, of Charleston-based Bailey & Wyant, are defending DHHR from the whistleblower lawsuits.
Bailey said Tuesday he expects to file a response on Friday.
The ousted trio includes the DHHR's deputy secretary for legal affairs Susan Perry, assistant secretary John Law and general counsel Jennifer Taylor.
In two separate whistleblower lawsuits filed in October, Perry and Taylor blasted the department for a "track record of errors" that they had to correct or tried to keep the agency from making.
The three apparently were "reassigned" after they raised questions about a multimillion-dollar marketing contract DHHR has since awarded to the highest bidder.
They've also been paid about $82,000 since they were barred from their offices in mid-July.
The marketing contract, estimated to be worth $3.5 million, was awarded to Fahlgren Mortine for one year's work. To pick Ohio-based Fahlgren, DHHR passed over three lower bidders.
DHHR has never formally accused the three of any crime, although an unusually lengthy mid-September search warrant accused them of trying to illegally interfere with the awarding of the contract.
But Taylor and Perry's lawsuits suggest they were trying to keep DHHR from making yet another procurement mistake. The agency's purchasing office has made a series of public errors.
Earlier this year, a legislative audit recommended DHHR purchasing officials be stripped of some of their authority to issue contracts without oversight from the state's main purchasing division. Department officials agreed with that recommendation, which followed months of scrutiny and criticism in the press and from the Governor's Office.