A whistle blower's lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission should be reinstated because a judge's dismissal ignored crucial facts, the whistle blower's attorney told the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Ralph Bailets, a former financial manager for the commission, says he was fired in November 2008 in retaliation for his complaints about fraud, overcharges, and political cronyism in an $82 million contract for a financial reporting system.
Bailets' complaints about the contract with Ciber Inc., a Colorado technology firm, also figured in a grand jury investigation that resulted in criminal charges against eight turnpike officials, employees, and contractors in 2013. Many of the most serious charges ultimately were dropped.
Bailets' lawyer, former U.S. Attorney James West, told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that a lower-court judge failed to consider key facts when she granted the commission's request to dismiss the case early last year. He cited an affidavit from a former turnpike chief of staff and the grand jury report.
The commission acknowledged that Bailets had been warned by his superior that he could lose his job if he continued to complain about the Ciber contract. But the commission said that Bailets was laid off in 2008, along with 14 other commission employees, to reduce costs, not as retaliation for his complaints.
Gaetan Alfano, a lawyer for the commission, told the Supreme Court justices Wednesday that Bailets' suit was properly dismissed by Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Rochelle Friedman. He said that the grand jury presentment was hearsay and should not be considered, and that the affidavit from the ex-chief of staff was not based on personal knowledge regarding Bailets.
Even as the commission fights Bailets' lawsuit, it is also taking legal action against Ciber.
The commission this year sued Ciber, seeking $45 million, claiming the company overcharged and under-delivered on its contract.
In the criminal cases prompted by the grand jury investigation, former turnpike chief executive officer Joseph Brimmeier pleaded guilty to a felony conflict-of-interest charge and is serving five years probation.
Former commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin of Philadelphia pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of commercial bribery and is serving two years of probation.
Each was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.
Former Ciber vice president Dennis Miller, who is also a defendant in the turnpike's civil suit, was admitted to a program for first-time offenders that will allow him to have criminal charges dropped if he successfully completes two years of probation.
After Wednesday's half-hour Supreme Court hearing, the justices gave no indication when they might rule on the appeal to have Bailets' whistle-blower suit reinstated.