The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, November 01, 2002

DOE suit: Allegations affirmed
Whistleblowers want latest extension to be final delay

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650Copyright 2002, The Paducah Sun

Those who filed a whistleblower suit against the former operator of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant want a federal judge to order the U.S. departments of Justice and Energy to decide by Dec. 17 if they will join in the suit that seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds to the government.

The latest deadline expires today, but the Justice Department on Thursday filed a motion asking for the 13th extension since the suit was filed in June 1999 against Lockheed Martin Corp. The plantiffs are three current and former employees Ronald B. Fowler, Charles F. Deuschle and Garland E. Jenkins; the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Thomas B. Cochran, a member of the defense council.

Lockheed and its predecessor companies operated the plant for the energy department from 1982 until 1992. The suit claims Lockheed made false statements involving storage and disposal of radioactive waste, exposure of workers to contaminants, and contamination of groundwater and soil with plutonium, neptunium and other radioactive materials.

The suit contends that because of the false statements, Lockheed was paid hundreds of millions of dollars in operating fees that it didn't deserve. It wants Lockheed ordered to refund those fees. If successful the whistleblowers would receive up to 25 percent of the money.

Lockheed strongly denies the claims.

The suit has been delayed while the Department of Justice and DOE have spent more than $1 million investigating the claims. Government attorneys and experts have reviewed thousands of pages of documents, tested the contents of landfills, and interviewed current and former plant workers.

Attorneys for the whistleblowers contend in a court document they filed Thursday that the investigation has "largely affirmed the allegations" made in the suit. However, it said DOE has failed to make a decision on whether it wants to get involved.

In Thursday's filing, Joe Egan, the lead attorney for the whistleblowers, said that he didn't think another extension was justified, but reluctantly agreed to support it. But he made it clear that they want this to be the last delay. He asked U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley Jr. to grant the delay "with instructions that this extension shall be the last."

Egan said further delay will harm their case because one of the clients has cancer, another has heart problems and potential witnesses may not be available later.

Having the government join the suit would be significant because with it comes almost unlimited resources to litigate the claims. Still, Egan said the plantiffs would be willing to litigate the case on their own because of what he says is overwhelming evidence to back the claims.

William F. Campbell, leader attorney for the federal government, said in his request for an extension to Dec. 17 that additional time is needed because of continued internal discussions.

"These discussions have involved the exchange of documents among agencies, and ... discussion down to a relatively fine level of detail, as well as discussion of legal theories and potential defenses that might be involved in the ... should the government get involved," he said.

He said that he and other government attorneys "anticipate the matter will be processed for a final decision on intervention" by Dec. 17.

Previously, Campbell said there had been negotiations with Lockheed to reach an out-of-court settlement and avoid lengthy, expensive court proceedings. His latest motion did not mention whether or not those discussions continue.