UPDATE 4/18/13 @ 11:53 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The state Department of Health and Human Resources has lost a bid to have a whistleblower lawsuit dismissed.
The Associated Press reports that Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge James Stucky recently rejected the agency's dismissal motion. Stucky ruled that DHHR Deputy Secretary Susan Perry and former general counsel Jennifer Taylor had provided sufficient evidence to support their claims.
Perry and Taylor sued the department in October 2012. They allege that DHHR officials retaliated against them after they raised questions about the scoring of bids for a six-figure advertising contract.
Perry and Taylor, along with former DHHR Assistant Secretary John Law, were placed on administrative leave in July 2012 after they questioned the contract's award. Law and Taylor were later fired.
The three employees were accused of tampering with an advertising contract bid.
A search warrant was filed late last year, instructing officers to look through the phones, computers and offices of John Law, Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor.
According to that warrant, the three conspired to delay the bidding process in order to get the contract awarded to a Charleston-based company, rather than the highest bidder, which was an out-of-state company.
However, after an investigation, Prosecutor Mark Plants is declining prosecution and is referring the matter to the state authorities to take administrative sanctions as they deem appropriate.
"While there appears to have been violations of internal policy and the exercise of bad judgment, the three employees did not attempt to hide their actions and there is no evidence they intended to commit a crime. Because there is no criminal intent, there is insufficient evidence to prosecute any violation of criminal law," Plants said. "I will leave any administrative remedies up to their employer, but this conduct doesn't rise to the criminal level. The outcome of the bid itself was not compromised, and the law was ultimately followed in the award of the contract."
During the investigation, witnesses were interviewed and all parties cooperated, according to the release.
Perry and Taylor have been on administrative leave since July. Law was originally on leave, but was dismissed earlier this month.
Perry and Taylor have also filed suit against the state claiming they were retaliated against because they raised questions about the bid.
Department spokeswoman Marsha Dadisman says Assistant Secretary John Law will be dismissed Jan. 23.
Law has been on administrative leave since July along with Deputy Secretary Susan Perry and general counsel Jennifer Taylor. That action followed a running disagreement over the scoring of bids for a six-figure advertising contract.
Perry and Taylor have since filed separate whistleblower lawsuits. Law did not sue, but said Tuesday he is considering his options.
The department's inspector general has investigated the case and filed a report with Kanawha County's prosecutor. A decision by that office is expected by February.
The 56-year-old Law has been with the department since 2001.
The Associated Press reports that attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor have been assigned to Department of Health and Human Resources offices at the Diamond Building in downtown Charleston.
The two had been working at the department's nearby offices at One Davis Square when they were placed on paid leave in July. The lawyers and a third DHHR official had clashed with others at the department over the awarding of a six-figure advertising contract.
Perry and Taylor filed whistleblower lawsuits in October. The third official who questioned the contract, John Law, is also on paid leave but is not taking part in the lawsuits.
Media outlets report that the DHHR asked the Kanawha County Circuit Court on Tuesday to dismiss whistleblower lawsuits filed by agency attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor.
Private attorneys representing the DHHR argue in a motion to dismiss that Perry and Taylor haven't been fired or suspended without pay.
Perry, Taylor and DHHR Assistant Secretary John Law were placed on administrative leave with pay in July. Law isn't taking part in the court action.
The lawsuits claim the DHHR and Secretary Rocco Fucillo retaliated against Tayor and Perry after they raised questions about the scoring of bids for a six-figure advertising contract.
Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor target Secretary Rocco Fucillo, the department and two senior aides in separate Kanawha County Circuit Court lawsuits filed Tuesday.
Perry, Taylor and department official John Law were placed on administrative leave in July. The lawsuits allege the defendants retaliated against them for raising questions about an advertising contract.
The one-year contract is worth an initial $473,000, but can be extended and shared with other agencies. The lawsuits say Taylor scrutinized the way bids for the contracts were scored on their technical merits, and found numerous problems.
The lawsuits also blame the defendants for last month's release of a search warrant seeking records from the officials on leave.
With your tax dollars on the line, investigators are carefully looking to see exactly what happened because those three workers could be facing felony charges.
The nine-page warrant issued Tuesday alleges that the employees interfered with and violated the purchasing process for an advertising bid.
They're accused of conspiring to keep a Charleston based company on board -- rather than giving the contract to the highest bidder, which is an out-of-state company.
The warrant instructs officers to look through computers, phones and offices of John Law, Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor.
“You're dealing with, basically, public integrity. You're dealing with tax dollars,” Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants said.
The Charleston-based Arnold Agency held an advertising contract with the DHHR. In May, it was outbid by a company in Columbus, Ohio.
According to the warrant, Law instructed employees not to make it final so he could "make some calls."
His concern involved awarding it to an out-of-state vendor during an election year -- as well as fear that the Arnold Agency would have to lay off employees.
Then, Perry and Taylor got involved. They're accused of delaying the process -- claiming to do a “legal review.”
An employee expressed concern, but according to the warrant, Perry told her "No problem. I do this all the time." As it turns out, she hadn't.
“It's important for vendors to know that when I submit a bid in the state of West Virginia, I’m gonna get a fair shot, and the standard procedure and the law is followed,” Plants said.
In July, Law went to the new DHHR acting secretary saying, "I have to speak with you about this contract. It's not good. You have to work with me on this one."
Meanwhile, Taylor and Perry went straight to the top -- asking the governor's office for help. Officials there wouldn't get involved.
“There are definitely two sides to every story,” Plants said. “All the suspects are innocent until proven guilty.”
Perry and Taylor’s attorney has warned the state that he plans to file a lawsuit over the situation.
WSAZ.com tried contacting Law for comment, but no phone calls have been returned.
All three employees remain on paid leave.
A trooper obtained a search warrant Tuesday for computers, cell phones and the offices of Department of Health and Human Resources officials John Law, Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor.
The three have been on leave since July, after allegedly raising concerns about a department advertising contract. Their lawyer, Walt Auvil, recently warned the state that they planned to sue over the situation.
Tuesday's warrant alleges the three conspired to steer the contract to a particular vendor. Auvil says the warrant request reads more like a press release. He said a full investigation will vindicate all three officials.
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