One could only hope Chief Justice John D. Minton was sincere when he said “transparency and accountability are bedrock principles in maintaining trust in state government.”
More than 30 years after the Kentucky legislature enacted the state’s open records laws, the Kentucky Supreme Court has finally acknowledged that it is not above the law.
The policy overturns years of hiding behind a cloak of secrecy when it came to the operation of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Although Minton should be lauded for the new policy, the real question is whether the new policy will do anything to address the waste, fraud, and mismanagement which has resulted in what can best be described as the wasteful expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars at a time when Kentucky is facing a fiscal crisis.
So, what was the catalyst for the Kentucky Supreme Court’s enlightened policy of transparency? Could it just be that the revelations set forth in the recent whistleblower lawsuit filed by former employee Scott Brown was ground zero for exposing years of waste, fraud, and mismanagement which lead to the policy change? In the words of former President Barrack Obama, “Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal [state and local] employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.”
For those of you who don’t know Scott Brown, Scott had been employed at the Administrative Office of Courts for more than seventeen years. Although Scott had an untarnished record as an employee, once he started reporting waste, fraud, and mismanagement to his supervisors in 2014, those who supervised him decided he had to go. Finally, after more than two years of numerous reports of wrongdoing to his supervisors, a plot was hatched to destroy Scott’s reputation as an excuse to get rid of this troublesome whistleblower. The only sin that his supervisors could uncover against Scott was that he purchased a used vehicle from the Administrative Office of Courts in the same manner as many other employees pursuant to a policy that had been approved by the Director of AOC. Scott’s vehicle purchase was reported to the Attorney General’s office for a criminal investigation and was immediately reported to the press to ensure that Scott would suffer the scorn of his colleagues and the public.
Scott’s treatment and the attempts to destroy his reputation is not unlike the treatment of many whistleblowers. What most do not understand is that the information most whistleblowers report regarding waste, fraud, and mismanagement involves matters which are known to those above them. Also, what most do not understand is that unlike the whistleblower, those set out to destroy the credibility and reputation of a whistleblower have unlimited power and resources necessary to crush the whistleblower. In this case, once Scott filed his lawsuit against the Administrative Office of Courts, a $100,000 legal contract was issued to hire an attorney to fight the charges raised by Scott in his lawsuit. How does this lead to the so-called transparency and accountability announced by Chief Justice Minton? The simple answer is that it doesn’t.
As for Scott and his family, and as a direct result of Scott’s reports of waste, fraud, and mismanagement, Scott has now been terminated from his employment with the Administrative Office of Courts. As a direct result of Scott’s reports of waste, fraud, and mismanagement, Scott and his family will likely suffer the fate of other whistleblowers who have come before him. All that Scott and his family have worked for will be lost and they will likely face financial ruin. What Scott has discovered since he was fired is that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to find suitable employment which will allow him to support his family. In the words of President Obama, instead of being rewarded “for acts of courage and patriotism,” Scott and his family will struggle for years to come and will face an uncertain future which could eventually result in the loss of everything Scott and his family have saved for their retirement.
So, the real question is what can be done to protect whistleblowers like Scott who have the courage to report waste, fraud, and mismanagement? Maybe, just maybe, at least in Scott’s case, it is time for the Kentucky legislature to hold hearings and investigate the spending practices of the Administrative Office of Courts. In the end, what needs to be understood is that money budgeted for the operation of government is not a slush fund for those who oversee the public dollars. The millions of dollars budgeted for the Administrative Office of the Courts should be protected and spent as intended, and those dollars should not be squandered on decorating the Administrative Office of Courts, or for any other project which does not in some way contribute to the efficient operation of Kentucky courts.
It is time to reign in government. It is time to protect whistleblowers. It is time to end the practice of spending public funds to silence whistleblowers. It is time for public officials to be held responsible and reign in wasteful and fraudulent spending.
For those of you who have joined me on my figurative mountaintop before, please help me as I shout to the world, or at least the Kentucky legislature, that it is time to investigate the matters Scott reported regarding waste, fraud, and mismanagement. It is also time to shout that it is time to end the practice of using public funds to hire attorneys to defend matters reported by the whistleblower. Finally, please help me shout as loudly as possible that Scott is worthy of being hired by anyone who wants an honest employee, an employee who will not ignore waste, fraud, or mismanagement wherever, or for whoever, employs him.
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington. He, Thomas E. Clay of Louisville, and retired Circuit Court Judge Thomas Jones of Beattyville are representing Scott Brown in his whistleblower lawsuit.