The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Port to pay for workers legal fees in fraud probe

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Port of Seattle wants to pay the legal fees for employees drawn into the federal Department of Justice probe of possible fraud in Port construction projects.

The elected Port Commission will be asked next week to approve the payment of legal-defense fees, which is allowable under state law and something the Port has done to defend employees against past suits.

The Port believes it's important to support its employees during interviews with prosecutors and make sure they understand the investigation process, said a Port spokeswoman.

"The Port does not want employees to bear the financial costs of legal representation necessitated by their employment at the Port, nor should they go without representation if they cannot afford it," said the Port's Charla Skaggs.

The Port won't cover employees if it finds out they acted badly or outside their duties.

The Department of Justice announced its investigation last month after a state audit found the Port violated state contracting procedures, misled commissioners and wasted $97 million in public money. The audit said the Port was vulnerable to fraud because of lax contracting practices.

Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton said the vast majority of Port employees are not implicated by the audit "and are now pretty much in shock." The Port has told all employees to cooperate fully with the investigation.

"We have a moral obligation to show them that they are not out there by themselves," Tarleton said.

The Port's position is not unusual among public employers; but it's not universal, either.

The University of Washington has provided legal defense for employees facing federal investigation. And a UW policy mirrors the Port's — the UW will provide legal defense for employees facing lawsuits and criminal investigations if they acted in good faith and within their job duties.

The city of Seattle, however, would not pay legal fees for police officers under federal investigation, said Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle police officers union. When officers at the West Precinct were questioned by the FBI several years ago about alleged misconduct, they had to pay their own legal fees, even though they were never charged with a crime, O'Neill said.

Federal prosecutors have not yet interviewed any Port employees or asked for interviews, Skaggs said.

But the Port administration also is lawyering up, hiring the Seattle firm Danielson Harrigan Leyh and Tollefson, at a minimum rate of $400 per hour, and a lawyer from Yarmuth Wilsdon Calfo.

Port employees would be represented by Jon Zulauf, a longtime Seattle lawyer specializing in white-collar criminal defense.

The Port doesn't have a budget for legal defense, Skaggs said. Employees can hire any lawyer they want but the Port will only pay for Zulauf, Skaggs said, because of his "significant experience in this area of law."

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