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Updated figures show that taxpayers paid close to $6 million to cover the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s legal tab in 2002. That means the lab spent nearly 2 1/2 times more on legal costs than it did in 2001. The 2002 legal expenses dwarf what the national laboratory spent in 2000 and 2001 combined, according to the Department of Energy. The agency released new litigation totals on Tuesday because a computer glitch omitted several cases from early estimates given to The Recorder. The figures were supplied in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. The lab’s legal bills have been the subject of congressional inquiry, as well as criticism by plaintiffs attorneys who say that the surge in spending points to extensive management problems at the lab. The costliest lawsuits have revolved around discrimination and whistle-blower retaliation. The spotlight on legal expenses also comes as the University of California, which runs the Livermore lab and two other national labs under a DOE contract, grapples with the fallout from a whistle-blower scandal at its Los Alamos, N.M., facility. In 2002, officials at the Los Alamos National Laboratory fired investigators who uncovered financial abuses. Although the investigators were later rehired, the move sparked multiple government inquiries and high-level resignations at Los Alamos. “It does not make sense for the government to pay these fees when they have a policy to listen to whistle-blowers,” said Tom Carpenter, an attorney with the Seattle office of the Government Accountability Project.He represents a fired Livermore lab security guard whose federal whistle-blower case, Zipoli v. Regents of the University of California, is pending. “Instead we’re spending money to beat [the whistle-blowers] into the ground,” he added. Janet Tulk, the chief in-house lawyer who directs the Livermore lab’s legal strategy, has declined repeated requests for comment. The National Nuclear Security Administration in Oakland, an agency within the DOE that oversees the Livermore lab, has stressed that it is keeping an eye on legal expenses. Richard Vergas, an NNSA lawyer who scrutinizes the lab’s legal costs, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In past interviews, he has argued that the DOE closely monitors legal expenses. The energy department pays the labs’ legal costs through a complex “reimbursement” system. Essentially, the department pays the labs’ legal bills as they come in. If a lab faces high litigation costs, it must trim spending in other areas. The whistle-blower suits don’t point to a pattern at the lab; rather they are merely a way for plaintiffs lawyers to chase headlines, Vergas has said. Vergas has also argued the most costly case, a gender discrimination class action � a rarity for any employer. Most of the Livermore lab’s $6 million legal bill was spent on a class action pending in Alameda County Superior Court. In that case, Singleton v. Regents, 807233, the lab spent about $1.5 million in 2001 and $4.6 million in 2002. The suit alleges that the lab paid 3,200 women employees less and promoted them less often than their male colleagues. The plaintiffs, represented by a legal team led by James Sturdevant’s San Francisco law firm, are seeking as much as $200 million in damages. The lab denies that it discriminates against women. Before the DOE released corrected figures on Tuesday, their totals omitted several other cases: � Zipoli v. Regents, a suit filed by two security guards who say they were fired after raising security concerns, cost $106,000 in legal fees. The lab says that the guards were fired for participating in a “sick out.” Although a federal arbitration judge ordered the lab to rehire one of the men and give him back pay, the second guard’s suit remains active. � Ling v. Regents, an Alameda County race discrimination suit that seeks class action certification, cost the lab about $51,000 in 2002. � U.S. ex rel Adrian v. Regents, cost $48,000. In that False Claims Act case, the lab successfully argued that it should be dismissed as a defendant. The case is being appealed in the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Before those cases were added, the lab said that it spent $5.5 million on litigation expenses in 2002 and $2.7 million in 2001. The new 2002 figure supplied by the DOE is $200,000 higher than what was initially reported; the lab spent $300,000 less in 2001 than its first estimate. Carpenter, the fired security guard’s attorney, said that there was talk among lawmakers to add an amendment to a proposed energy bill that would limit how much the DOE can reimburse the lab for litigation expenses. “Maybe legislation will bring this gravy train to a halt,” he said.

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