Another Paralegal Blowing a Whistle

While I’ve not had time to finish the ongoing discussion with Clifford Smith regarding my post, “Can Doing Right Be Wrong,” regarding the “paralegal” who gave confidential client documents to the opposing side’s attorney, it is clear that this issue is one that is faced from time to time by paralegals – or at least paralegals allege it has happened. According to the Tri-City Herald, “A former CH2M Hill paralegal says she was fired after she accused the company of purposely withholding documents from prosecutors investigating timecard fraud at Hanford,” but there is no indication that she did anything other than make the accusation (i.e., she did not, as the tobacco whistleblower did, simply take the withheld documents and give them to the other side:

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She was assigned to search and locate documents for the Department of Justice in an earlier case, a 2010 investigation of fraud linked to CH2M Hill purchasers at the Hanford tank farms. She had concerns then that CH2M Hill was withholding information about hundreds, if not thousands, of stored boxes of Hanford records and Hanford databases and that Hanford staff were hiding or destroying potentially damaging records, according to her legal complaint.

Later that year, CH2M Hill received a subpoena for documents related to timecard fraud allegations. The company is accused of billing DOE for more overtime than was worked to induce employees to accept overtime shifts.

… CH2M Hill initially produced a limited number of documents related to timecard fraud for the Department of Justice, which then notified CH2M Hill in May 2011 that it was not satisfied.

But Randazzo was told to remain silent about documents she either knew or suspected still existed at Hanford, according to the legal complaint. If CH2M Hill Hanford Group did not search the stored boxes of Hanford records and databases, then it should at least let the Department of Justice know it existed, Randazzo argued. ..

After Randazzo raised concerns, she began to be harassed to get her to quit and then was fired in October 2011, she said in court documents. She believes she was fired in retaliation for refusing to mislead the Department of Justice.

CH2M Hill vigorously denies all of this, which is neither here nor there on the issue important here – exactly how can and should a paralegal handle situations like this.
Interestingly, Craig Simonsen posted a link on NFPA’s LinkedIn discussion board to his article announcing that OSHA has launched on online form for submission of whistleblower retaliation complaints under OSHA investigatory jurisdiction. It is unlikely that OSHA would have jurisdiction over cases like the one under discussion here, but perhaps the courts should consider establishing a similar vehicle for complaints of this nature or for confidential disclosure of the fact that evidence is being improperly withheld (like the “hotlines” set up to report abuse and neglect of vulnerable people.
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2 Comments

  • Clifford Smith says:

    As Prof. Mongue correctly points out, this case is distinguished from Merrell Williams, who gave away confidential documents. It is further distinguished, because unlike Williams, Grace Randazzo holds a paralegal credential from Palm Beach Community College (1993), and was hired by CH2M Hill as a paralegal. She is also a member of NALA and subject to its Code of Ethics.

    As a paralegal, Randazzo had an ethical duty to apprise the in-house lawyers of the withholding of documents and obstruction of justice under federal law (18 U.S.C.). Another approach would have been to inform the lawyers that if no immediate steps were taken to rectify the situation, she would inform the Colorado State Bar. In that regard, there is an exception under the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 1.6 (b)(3)), in that, a lawyer may reveal information to the extent necessary to enable affected persons or appropriate authorities to prevent the client from committing a fraud, as defined in Rule 1.0(d).

    Another underlying factor, is in her role as an employee for CH2M Hill, Randazzo was acting as a subordinate agent under the supervision of superior agents, the in-house lawyers for CH2M Hill. As such, had Randall knowingly participated in concealing documents from the DOJ, it would fall outside the scope of her employment and she would be liable for her actions, since fraud is an intentional tort (including criminal liability). Therefore, from a purely agency perspective, Randazzo would have a duty to extricate herself from the fraudulent corporate situation and, if no immediate steps were taken by the principle (corporate) to disclose the documents, she would inform the authorities. The rationale being, the duty of loyalty to a principle under agency law, does not extend to fraud or obstruction of justice.

    Because Grace Randazzo’s role is clearly defined as a paralegal (credentials, membership in paralegal association, and being hired as a paralegal) vis–à–vis, Merrel Williams (no paralegal credential and hired as a document analyst), the Kantian ethical path would apply here.

  • Supportive Angels says:

    Our hearts go out to Grace Randazzo. Beware – CH2M will do everything it can now to ruin you like they did Tom Huntsinger. They will likely use every legal tactic they can come up with to drain you and your financial resources. That’s just the way they work when you challenge them, especially in court. Doesn’t matter that they were wrong – they only admit to such things when they feel that it is in their best business interest. Doing the right thing, being ethical – that is NOT what CH2M is about. So, just know that going into this. Know too that in the Huntsinger case, CH2M’s defense was Colorado’s high bar to meet an “outrageous conduct” claim. They will lie and twist the truth to the point where it is unrecognizable. They also take pride in being labeled “The Corrupt Bastards Club.” Take care of yourself. We are proud of you standing up to CH2M’s corrupt way of doing business and disregard of the legal system. What really burns is that they make they enormous profits off taxpayers. Yep – we fund ‘em!

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