Attorney for fired state worker denies impending suit

By Chris Dickerson | Aug 10, 2006

CHARLESTON – The attorney for a fired state official who received a $50,000 settlement denies a claim that a lawsuit was about to be filed in the matter.

Erica Harich of the Charleston law firm of Hunt & Lees was retained by former General Services Director Jim Burgess after he was fired earlier this year by Secretary of Administration Robert Ferguson.

On Wednesday, after a story in the Charleston Gazette implied that Burgess "was on the verge of filing a lawsuit" and had "threatened to sue for wrongful termination," Harich told The West Virginia Record that those statements simply aren't true.

"We had not filed a lawsuit," Harich said. "We had filed a Level 4 grievance with the state, and we were going through that process. There hadn't been a hearing yet. We had went to mediation, but it was unfruitful.

"At some point in time, the state decided to settle. But again, he just had hired me to handle the Level 4 grievance. We have never sent correspondence to that (threatening to sue).

"Yeah, if we had been unsuccessful there, we might have filed a lawsuit. But now, we just want Mr. Burgess to be able to move on with his life."

Media reports have said Burgess was fired for alleged fraud and waste in his department, including employees charging excessive overtime, allegedly funneling no-bid contracts to politically connected vendors and setting up a studio in the basement of the state Capitol to pirate movies.

Chuck Jones, director of the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management, told the Gazette that BRIM officials made the decision to settle, not people in the Department of Administration.

Harich said she and Burgess still believe he was wrongly fired.

"We believe from the time Ferguson came into office, he wanted to get rid of Burgess because of the amount of money he was making," Harich said.

Burgess was making nearly $90,000 a year. That's almost as much as Gov. Joe Manchin.

Harich also said media reports have had some factual errors about Burgess and his firing.

Regarding the allegations of excessive overtime by Burgess' employees, Harich said, "Burgess signed off on it. But two other people, including Ferguson, was over him and had to sign off, too."

About funneling bids, Harich said that never was an allegation in their proceedings.

"They never accused him of that," she said. "The paper just had that wrong."

And regarding the pirate movie studio, Harich said newspapers blew that out of proportion.

"That was a miniscule issue," she said. "That was equipment bought over period of time. They had to back up their system with DVDs. Nothing out of the ordinary was being purchased."

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