Courts to Whistleblower: Thanks, You’re Demoted

Acting on Paul’s information, the Administrative Office of the Courts last week sued the vendors for not having licenses but has not publicly addressed the alleged overcharges.
Its spokesman, Philip Carrizosa, said Wednesday that he could not comment on Paul’s job situation “because it’s a personnel issue.” Carrizosa was reached at home because the Administrative Office of the Courts, along with courthouses around the state, is closed the third Wednesday of every month to save money.
Paul privately provided his superiors with information on the unlicensed contractors months ago and went public with the story of how he became a whistleblower and his frustrations with his employer after the lawsuits were filed.
The contractors are subsidiaries of the giant Jacobs Engineering Group, whose spokeswoman did not return telephone calls seeking comment, and a smaller firm, Aleut Global Solutions, whose attorney declined comment. The courts contracted with these firms to maintain hundreds of courthouses that counties have turned over to the state as part of the judicial system’s consolidation.
One of the lawsuits, brought by the state attorney general’s office on behalf of the judiciary, alleges that Aleut never had a contractor’s license despite an agreement with the courts that specifically required it to have one.  No one at the Administrative Office of the Courts apparently ever checked. The lawsuit seeks to void the contract and to compel Aleut to return all fees it was paid.
A separate lawsuit against the Jacobs’ subsidiaries, Jacobs Facilities Inc. and Jacobs Property Management Company, alleges that they had the required contractor’s license when they began work in 2006 but let it lapse a year ago. That lawsuit also seeks repayment of all state funds.
In going public, Paul posted extensive comments and correspondence on a legal blog that carried an article about the lawsuits.
Paul wrote that he noticed problems three years ago when he proposed automated controls for lighting, heating and air conditioning in courthouses that he said would save the judiciary hundreds of millions of dollars in utility bills annually. He said he was “floored” when officials of the Administrative Office of the Courts’ facilities management unit-where he has now been assigned to work on the same subject as a consultant-shot him down.
A few months after his proposal was rejected, he wrote, he was asked to help solve a temperature control problem at one courthouse. But he said senior managers in the facilities unit called him off again, assigning the problem to Jacobs and paying it $20,000 for a study that he said was plagiarized. He wrote that Jacobs turned in a study that was irrelevant to the courthouse problem and was in fact “an old draft study commissioned by the Army Corps of Engineers that was word for word pulled off the Internet.”
He said he later learned that Jacobs was overcharging on many projects. He made no specific overcharging allegations against Aleut.
“It became a sad, inside joke amongst the engineering staff I worked with that having Team Jacobs change a light bulb not only took four people to accomplish,” he wrote, “but the cost of changing that light bulb cost two grand-the minimum value of a service work order from the Facilities Management Unit.”
– Ted Rohrlich