When he took office last year, West Virginia’s Republican Secretary of State Mac Warner chose to replace some of the personnel left over from Democrat Natalie Tennant's eight-year tenure.
He let go 16 members of the Tennant team, 15 of them Democrats, and hired 22 new employees, 19 of them Republicans. Twelve of the 16 terminated employees filed wrongful termination lawsuits against Warner in Kanawha Circuit Court.
Against his wishes and over his protestations, the state’s Board of Risk & Insurance Management (BRIM) has settled the 12 suits for a grand total of more than $3 million. Warner has called for a “comprehensive review” of the board’s procedures.
“BRIM spends millions of dollars every year to settle frivolous lawsuits based on a flawed accounting practice they call ‘risk management,’ Warner complains. “That practice allows BRIM to authorize huge settlement amounts to avoid trial at all costs.
“BRIM settles these types of lawsuits without the approval or consent of the agency head involved, and without oversight by the governor or the Legislature. They answer to no one. That has to change.”
Warner asked BRIM “to take every one of these cases to a jury. All of these individuals were ‘at will and pleasure’ employees of the Secretary of State’s office. Agency heads and employees alike have the discretion to terminate ‘at will’ employment. Any change to that interpretation is a legislative decision, not BRIM’s.”
According to Warner, “The way this state handles lawsuits by way of insurance settlements needs to be completely redone. It’s a process with no oversight, where the lawyers keep getting richer off the deep pockets of the state, the state’s insurance carrier, and the taxpayers.”
Warner wants the Legislature to “give public officials the ability to make decisions on how lawsuits are resolved, since we are ultimately responsible to the voters for the decisions we make – and I continue to stand by my decisions – even if the insurance company doesn’t want to.”
Legislators should make this change a New Year’s resolution.