First hearing set in Lockheed whistleblower suits
After five years and many delays, lawsuits concerning the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will be discussed in court.
By Bill Bartleman
Saturday, September 11, 2004
The first court hearing regarding whistleblower lawsuits against former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant operator Lockheed Martin will be held Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Paducah.
Judge Joseph McKinley Jr. will hear arguments by Lockheed that three suits be dismissed. Those suits accuse the firm of submitting false claims regarding the storage and handling of radioactive and hazardous waste.
The judge also will consider motions to consolidate the suits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, three current and former plant workers, and former plant worker John Tillson. The plaintiffs have agreed to the consolidation to speed litigation, according to Joe Egan, the Washington, D.C.-based attorney for the three current and former workers.
Hundreds of pages of documents have been filed regarding the motions, Egan said.
If the judge does not dismiss the suits, additional hearings will be held soon to establish a trial date and a timetable for filing pleadings.
The suits claim that the false documents were filed to hide contamination at the plant that is costing more than $1 billion to clean up. It also asks that Lockheed, which has denied the allegations, be ordered to repay hundreds of millions of dollars in operating bonuses that were based on the false claims.
The whistleblower allegations have lingered in federal court since 1999 when the first suit was filed by Egan on behalf of Ronald B. Fowler, Charles F. Deuschle and Garland Jenkins, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group.
The case was dormant while the Department of Justice conducted its own investigation to determine if there was merit to the allegations. The investigation, which cost more than $1 million, included a review of hundreds of thousands of pages of records, digging into old landfills, testing soil and testing hazardous materials stored at the plant.
In May 2003, the Department of Justice said it found merit to the allegations and filed a notice that it was intervening in the case.
Tillson's suit, filed in 2000, contained allegations similar to those in the 1999 suit.
If Lockheed is ordered to repay the fees, the current and former employees could receive up to 25 percent of the proceeds. The rest would go to the federal government and could be used to help pay for cleanup at the plant where nuclear fuel has been produced for more than 50 years.