The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

August 8, 2013
Personnel panel grills Corrections lawyer on services contract

100602 yolo county gavel.jpgIf the 50-minute spanking disguised as a State Personnel Board hearing Thursday was any indication, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will again be on the losing side of an outsourcing contract dispute.

And this may be just the beginning.

Members of the State Personnel Board spent nearly all of their time at the hearing grilling Scott Wyckoff, the supervising deputy attorney general who defended CDCR's $6 million, three-year contract with Williams & Associates to handle inmate lawsuits against the state. (Our Thursday column lays out the arguments for and against the contract.)

It didn't help Wyckoff's case that the agreement in question was entered into just weeks after the board deemed a similar $5 million deal to be illegal. That first contract, "Williams I," expired in mid-2012, and "Williams II" started the next day. Taken together, CDCR's deal with the firm runs up to six years and up to $11 million, despite the personnel board's earlier disapproval.

State law requires that whenever an agency determines it needs to contract for outside legal counsel, it must notify the state lawyer's union, California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges, and Hearing Officers in State Employment, also called CASE. It's a check on runaway contracting and a layer of protection for civil service.

During the back-and-forth with the panel, Wyckoff mentioned that the department had other contracts with other law firms. When asked by board member Lauri Shanahan for details -- how many other law firms are under contract or their cost -- Wyckoff couldn't say.

"I don't know the answer to that," Wyckoff said. "Perhaps CASE ..."

Board president Patricia Clarey then turned to CASE attorney Patrick Whalen and asked what was the toughest question posed to him during the hearing: "Can you offer some thought on that?"

"I was shocked to learn today of other cases out there beyond Williams & Associates," Whalen said. "There may well be future challenges if we can find out (more) about them."

The board is expected to render a decision in a month or so.

PHOTO: www.yolocourts.ca.gov

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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