Category Archives: Whistle Blower

AOC Settles Lawsuit with Whistleblower

The AOC appears to have settled a lawsuit brought against it by former AOC employee and whistleblower Jack Urquhart.

From the Daily Journal:

The Administrative Office of the Courts will pay more than $53,000 to settle a suit brought by a former employee who claimed he was forced out his job after alerting reporters to the costs of a 2009 judicial conference.

Jack Urquhart, who retired from his analyst job of 11 years in December 2009, will receive $33,782 to drop his lawsuit and to cover the costs of a private mediator, the AOC announced in a press release Tuesday. The AOC will also pay $20,000 to Urquhart’s lawyers with the San Francisco firm of Moss & Hough.

AOC Watcher readers will remember that Mr. Urquhart became a catalyst that inspired some of the most vocal opposition and criticism the AOC and Judicial Council has ever faced when he revealed to reporters of the $80,000 that the AOC spent for a Judicial Council conference in San Francisco last year. After being forced to resign for his actions, actions that many believe were honorable, Mr. Urquhart eventually filed a lawsuit against the AOC. The actions that AOC took against Urquhart inspired legislators to draw up legislation that will ensure that AOC and court employees are covered by current whistleblower laws. That legislation is still pending in Sacramento.

But anyone who thinks that settlement of the case means the AOC was in the wrong, would be surprised to know that the settlement “is not an admission of wrongdoing.”

The nine-page settlement document says the agreement is not an admission of wrongdoing by the AOC.

“We are pleased that this matter has been resolved amicably,” Mary Roberts, general counsel for the AOC, said in a prepared statement that was approved by both parties. “The AOC remains committed to the highest ethical standards of public service. We respect and value the unique talents that each of our employees contributes to advancing the Judicial Council’s goal of improving access to justice in California.”

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Former AOC Employee Jack Urquhart Files Suit Against AOC

If you’re a regular AOC Watcher reader than you MUST know Jack Urquhart. He’s the former AOC employee who many believe is the one that set in motion what would become the strongest opposition to the AOC and the Judicial Council that either agency has ever seen.

San Francisco Superior Court Civil Courthouse

And how did one man do this and why is he a former AOC employee?  Well, because he had the AUDACITY to complain to his AOC supervisors that the AOC was spending money needlessly on conference in the midst of a severe state budget crisis. When his pleas for financial common sense were ignored, Mr. Urquhart bravely turned over to media representatives the costs of some of the AOC junkets including $82,000 for the AOC annual meeting. And when the news broke and the AOC went on the warpath to try and figure out who was responsible for leaking info to the media, Mr. Urquhart confessed.

Needless to say, the AOC’s response to his actions was anything but warm as detailed yesterday when the Daily Journal reported that Jack Urquhart filed a lawsuit against the AOC this past January in San Francisco Superior Court..

“In his suit, filed Jan. 21 in San Francisco County Superior Court, Jack Urquhart accuses the agency of violating the California Whistleblower Protections and Fair Employment and Housing acts. Urquhart’s former boss, Dianne Bolotte, and the director of their division, Kenneth Kann, are named as co-defendants in the suit that seeks damages in excess of $25,000.

During the course of that meeting, Defendant Bolotte repeatedly referred to Plaintiff as a ‘sick, angry and emotionally distraught man’ ‘beset by personal problems’, told Plaintiff that he needed ‘professional counseling’ and he needed to ‘concentrate on getting well,'” the suit said. “These and other comments lead Plaintiff to believe that he would more than likely be terminated.” Instead, Bolotte escorted Urquhart to the human resources department where she instructed an employee to prepare his retirement papers, according to the suit. Kann later sent Urquhart an e-mail supporting Bolotte’s actions and stating the only option was his retirement.

Of course considering that the lawsuit has been filed across the street from AOC headquarters in San Francisco, it goes without saying that plenty of people in that office, and throughout the state for that matter, will be folllowing this lawsuit closely.

AOC Employee Blows Whistle On Unlicensed Contractors

William Vickrey, the AOC’s Administrative Director of the Courts, sent out an internal email last Friday detailing problems that the AOC has had with unlicensed contractors working at various court facilities. In the email Vickrey explains that an AOC employee discovered “the use of unlicensed contractors to perform maintenance and other services on our trial court facilities.” He also explains the process that the AOC went through to hear the whistleblower’s complaint and the results of its investigation into the allegations brought about by the whistleblower.

The AOC discovered that two contractors did not maintain proper licenses. One of the contractors, Jacobs Facilities Inc., had expired license due to a “corporate reorganization.” That contract which the contractor had worked under was then transferred to a related company called Jacobs Project Management Co. The second contractor, Aleut Global Solutions, also did not appear to have a proper license. In their investigation the AOC discovered that Aleut Global Solutions “had not completed the steps it needed to take to obtain the required license.” Vickrey says the issues with that company were “being addressed.”

The AOC then took the step of contacting outside government agencies to help in the matter and they’ve stopped payments on invoices submitted by the two contractors.

Because of the seriousness of both situations, AOC contacted the State of California Department of Justice (Attorney General’s office) several weeks ago for assistance and has been working closely with that office. The AOC also has withheld payment of unpaid invoices for both service providers pending the ongoing investigation and review. AOC’s Office of Court Construction and Management (OCCM) has been working to assure that there is no interruption of services, and none is anticipated.

Of course, kudos goes to the brave whistleblower who stepped forward and pointed out the discrepancies with the licenses of these contractors. The question is how anyone at the AOC could have allowed these contractors to bid on and receive contracts without checking first to see whether they had proper licenses. I mean, isn’t that one of the first things people tell you to do when hiring contractors? Check references? And I’m curious to know exactly how much the AOC has withheld in payment and what project these two contractors were working on and in which facilities. If you know the answer, you know where to reach me.

Two CA Assemblywomen to Introduce Legislation to Protect AOC Employees

I’ve posted before and AOCW readers have commented about the issue of whether AOC employees are covered by the California Whistleblower Protection Act. And although some may believe that AOC employees are protected, the AOC believes otherwise. In fact the agency told legislators in a hearing heard in October that it was their belief that AOC employees were not covered by the California Whistleblower Protection Act. This came as a huge surprise to legislators who wondered how AOC employees were expected to come forward with any information of malfeasance on the AOC’s part if they weren’t even protected.

Now it turns out two legislators are so concerned about the lack of protection they’ve decided to introduce legislation to ensure that AOC employees are given whistleblower protections. Cheryl Miller of the Recorder reported in an article printed Tuesday that Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, a Democrat from Long Beach, and Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, a Republican from Thousand Oaks, have joined forces on the proposed legislation they hope to introduce next month.

“I decided on the spot that it would be important legislation to improve transparency and government,” (Bonnie) Lowenthal said. “It’s a good government bill, and considering that billions of dollars are spent on the judicial system, I think taxpayers want to know that workers in our court system are protected from any retaliation.”

The biggest surprise in the article is a quote from the AOC’s salesman in chief Administrative Chief William Vickery who issued a statement saying that the AOC would support the work of Assemblywomen Lowenthal and Strickland.

“To the extent that there may be any existing gaps in state law for the judicial branch, we are happy to work with Assemblymember Lowenthal in addressing those concerns,” Vickrey said.

Oh, how nice.  Now the AOC supports extending whistle blower protection to its employees.  Of course this change in position by the AOC is a day late and a dollar short where one AOC employee in particular is concerned.

In announcing the legislation, Lowenthal cited the case of Jack Urquhart, the 11-year employee of the AOC who claims he was forced to retire by supervisors earlier this year after alerting the media to Judicial Council spending on a San Francisco retreat.

Passage of the legislation, and there’s no certainty that it will considering failed attempts in the past, may come too late for Mr. Urquhart, but it will surely protect those who come forward in the future.