State worker files whistleblower lawsuit against Kentucky courts

Posted at 6:42 PM, Jun 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-21 18:42:09-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A state worker at the center of an attorney general’s investigation says his bosses are punishing him for exposing waste and fraud in Kentucky’s court system.

Scott Brown was placed on unpaid leave earlier this year after an anonymous complaint prompted the attorney general’s office to look into his handling of the sale of some surplus state vehicles.

But Wednesday, Brown filed a whistleblower lawsuit saying the complaint was bogus and meant as retaliation for his work to uncover illegal activity in the Administrative Office of the Courts, the operational arm of the state court system.

Specifically, Brown said he has been cooperating with FBI agents as they probe a series of no-bid contracts awarded for heating and air conditioning maintenance projects at courthouses across the state.

He said he audited the payments for the state’s guardian ad litem program, where taxpayers hire private attorneys to act in the best interest of children in matters before the court. These payments are capped for each case, but Brown said he discovered one county in northern Kentucky accounted for $3.6 million of these payments over a three-year period, or more than 10 percent of the total spent in all of the state’s 120 counties.

But Brown said when he reported his findings, his bosses scolded him for auditing something they said the office did not have the authority to investigate.

“Typically the person that is providing the information is providing the information to people that don’t want to hear it so they want to get rid of you,” said Mark Wohlander, one of Brown’s attorneys. “This is a guy that has been employed over there for 17 years, he starts reporting all this stuff, and all of a sudden he’s put on administrative leave for this surplus vehicle?”

Administrative Office of the Courts spokeswoman Jamie Neal said the office does not directly enter into contracts for heating and air-conditioning repairs. She also said the FBI was not investigating the agency. An FBI spokesman did not immediately return an email.

Administrative Office of the Courts Director Laurie Dudgeon rejected Brown’s allegations. She acknowledged Brown reported those problems to management, saying “corrective measures were taken immediately.” She said Brown was suspended because of his behavior during the attorney general’s inquiry about his handling of surplus vehicles. She said Brown’s suspension expires June 30, and he has been notified he will be fired.

“Mr. Brown’s impending termination is solely the result of a loss of trust and confidence in his management abilities,” Dudgeon said. “To characterize this as anything else is completely unfounded.”

Dudgeon said the office has taken steps to improve oversight of its finances, including new guidelines about how to dispose of surplus property. Earlier this month, state Auditor Mike Harmon announced he would review the offices’ finances. The audit will include interviews of the office’s employees and an analysis of its bank records, contracts and other documents.