Dec 19, 2008

Lawsuit returns to the scene of the CREM

By ROGER SNODGRASS, The Los Alamos Monitor

A lawsuit filed Dec. 12 in New Mexico District Court in Los Alamos revisits a controversial episode in the recent history of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In a legal complaint, John Horne, a now-retired firing site leader and lead technician, says he was one of several employees implicated in the alleged disappearance of two classified disks, an incident that turned out to be a false alarm.

A statement by the laboratory this morning said the laboratory had not yet been served with the complaint by John Horne.

He was the presumed owner of the disks that were reported missing on July 6, 2004. But in fact, as later developments revealed, he was merely the person who had been assigned extra barcodes by an inexperienced clerk, and then expected to account for classified material that he never possessed.

As it turned out, the Classified Removable Electronic Media (CREM) in question was assumed to exist only because of an accounting error.

On Aug. 11, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., tipped off the public that he thought the matter was a “false positive,” and not in itself a serious breach of security, but the “nothing happened” excuse did not sit well in Congress nor at the Department of Energy, weary of safety and security turbulence at LANL.

Over the next few years, Horne claims, he was persecuted and retaliated against by some of his bosses at the laboratory for the security breach that didn’t happen.

“He had the stigma, as the guy who shut down the lab,” said Horne’s attorney, Tim Butler in a phone call Thursday. “As long as senior management has that view, there’s no way he’s going to be back on a career path.”

The incident had major consequences for nearly everybody involved, including former Director Pete Nanos, who is one of the defendants in the current complaint, and many other employees who were not directly involved, but were swept along in the aftermath.

When another, unrelated safety incident occurred shortly after the security occurrence, Nanos ordered the laboratory to shut down almost all of its operations, which were gradually scrubbed for safety and security hazards before standing up over the next several months.

The shutdown led to the creation of LANL: The Real Story, the blog that began to express and mobilize opinions within the laboratory that were critical and derisive of the director.

Horne’s friend and mentor, Todd Kauppila was arbitrarily terminated September 23, according to his account.

He was only peripherally connected to the incident, having chaired an international conference for which the disks had been recorded. He was one of 19 employees who were terminated.

Horne was placed on a ten-day suspension at the end of December 2004.

As stress and recriminations mounted over the next several months, Kauppila died of a massive pancreatic hemorrhage on May 8, 2005, coincidentally two days after Nanos resigned.

Nanos was replaced by Robert Kuckuck. The LANL contract was opened for competition and taken over by Los Alamos National Security (LANS) in 2006.

Although the crux of the matter took place while the University of California was in charge, the LANS partnership that includes UC is also a defendant in the case.

“The Laboratory did not anticipate this suit because Mr. Horne previously chose to use binding arbitration to resolve his complaint against the Laboratory,” the statement from LANL noted.

“In fact, his claims were resolved last year in arbitration. Further, the complaint apparently relates to events that occurred in 2004, long before LANS became the prime contractor at LANL.

“They had Horne as an employee from June 2006 onward,” Butler said, “and the stigmatization continued.”

Subjected to what he believes was a hostile work environment, Horne decided to take an early retirement at the laboratory in 2007.

The complaint details his contention that the incident had a destructive effect on his health and career, and included fraudulent, malicious and conspiratorial behavior.

The complaint states that in February 2008, an independent arbitrator ruled that Horne had not violated any policies or procedures and that he had handled the classified material appropriately.

But the suit extends the argument, saying that the arbitration excluded the other issues Horne had raised.

“Only after June 21, 2007, after having selected binding arbitration and after LANL having severely limited the scope of his adjudication,” the complaints states, “was Horne (over ensuing months) finally allowed access to copies of LANS Case Review Board documents, LANS Security Incident Team (SIT) reports and LANS Human Resources staff reports concerning the allegations, purported facts, supposed infractions, witness statements and other information and materials relevant to his complaint.”

Had Horne had access to this material, the complaint states, “he could have more fully assessed and invoked his rights under his contract of employment with LANS…”

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

so who ever paid for the $300M it cost for the faux stand down?

Anonymous said...

"A statement by the laboratory this morning said the laboratory had not yet been served with the complaint by John Horne."

Serve it up strong, John! Serve it straight up their sorry asses. Many of the vermin involved with this ugly incident are still in hiding at LANL. Bring them out into the light of day for all to see. No more hiding. The truth will come out. Rip off the scabs so that true healing can finally, at long last, begin.

Anonymous said...

Godspeed, John Horne.

Anonymous said...

Good luck John, I hope you can bring justice to the SOB's who have destroyed this institution.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Roger for the witty headline.

Anonymous said...

The joke in Washington was that the half-year shutdown didn't seem to influence the LANL's production rate.
Perhaps that is where the resentment arose?

Anonymous said...

Give 'em hell John. There are other suits against LANS and its "management" underway as well. There will likely be at least one more.

Anonymous said...

How is LANS liable for this?
This took place before their time!

Anonymous said...

now that we will have a Democratic executive and legislature you just might have a chance.

Doug said...

$357 Million, 10:34, by DOE's reckoning, anyhow.

http://www.parrot-farm.net/~roberts/lanl-the-real-story/2005/11/fed-audit-faults-lanl-manager.html

Much higher in real costs (lost sponsors, lost staff, lost goodwill).

--Doug

Anonymous said...

"How is LANS liable for this?
This took place before their time!"

I'm speculating here, but I would guess that the cost to Horne of 2 weeks unpaid leave pales in comparison to the subsequent harassment and damage to his career from being demoted. This harassment and demotion continued under LANS.

Anonymous said...

Watch as LANS and UC wall off all access to information about this event in the courts under the banner of "national security". They won't have to settle if they can continue to cover up the details.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how Sarah Kauppila is doing with her legal suit against UC?

Anonymous said...

12/21/08 2:09 PM wrote, "They won't have to settle if they can continue to cover up the details."

Makes it even more sure that they will have to settle. Secrecy just make Horne's case even more compelling.

Besides Hornes anyone else received treatment like this?

Anonymous said...

SUE the BASTARD'S...both of them LANS and UC...but get er done drag Nanos back to testify...Id love to see that, hey youve got a lot of support John, more than you know!!!

Anonymous said...

I think that if Horne gets a jury trial LANS is going to take it up the ass.

Anonymous said...

For those still working at LANL who supported Pete Nanos when he carry off this ugly event (you know who you are), might I suggest a gift of LANS knee pads for this holiday season.

We have basic pads in foam plastic and heavy weight pads with gel material which is resistant to pressure. I strongly suggest the latter. You've earned it.

Anonymous said...

"The joke in Washington was that the half-year shutdown didn't seem to influence the LANL's production rate."

This probably has a lot to do with the fact that many of us worked on unclassified projects at home for 8 hours a night (after twiddling our thumbs and sitting in safety meetings for 8 hours a day).

Anonymous said...

"They won't have to settle if they can continue to cover up the details."

Wow, you really don't get it, do you? The Lab settles lawsuits even when it has a solid court case, because the cost of settling is lower and the risk is nil. And most plaintiff's attorneys will advise their clients to take the sure thing.

Anonymous said...

"Wow, you really don't get it, do you? The Lab settles lawsuits..." 8:06 AM

If true, then have they settled with Sarah Kauppila? You don't get it. LANL doesn't always decide to settle cases out of court.

Anonymous said...

This "whole event" the shut down and what lead to it needs to be uncovered and reviewed out in the open. Maybe , just maybe someone with half a brain in Congress will figure out what the hell ios really going on at Los Alamos...

Anonymous said...

9:38 Horne was never demoted. His qualifications were then, and are now, those of a Tech 7.

Anonymous said...

Another gold digger lawsuit. Has nothing to do with principle. It's all about money, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

"Although the crux of the matter took place while the University of California was in charge, the LANS partnership that includes UC is also a defendant in the case."

LANS is the sheep clothing, while UC is the wolf wearing it. We're expected to believe otherwise of course. How else could the DOE have managed to keep UC entrenched at the national labs? With the entire California delegation in lock step, how hard could it have been to get the U.S. Congress to pretend otherwise? When it comes to UC it doesn't matter if she's naughty or nice, Santa's always going to bring plenty of gifts.

Frank Young said...

"Another gold digger lawsuit. Has nothing to do with principle. It's all about money, plain and simple."

Is it possible to sue for anything else?

A few years ago the lab could have said, "Woops, we're so sorry. We'll fix this right now." It's too late for that at this point.

It's becoming clear to me that litigation is the most efficient remedy in a company town. I think this case should go to trial and the facts should be made public. I think it will be a hard but important lesson for the lab.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting, to say the least, to see Nanos on the stand; and fun, to say the least, to have a clever lawyer tear him to bits. This is one lawsuit we don't want to see settled out of court. The damage that Nanos and his cohort did to LANL will not be recovered for a decade -- if ever.

Anonymous said...

The depositions of Nanos alone should be boat loads of fun for a good litigator.

However, Horne may not understand that the defense can and will depose him as well, and they're not going to play softball.

It's going to be a bruising battle all the way around.

But there are lots of other lab people who contributed to the witch hunt that will have their depositions taken, too, and they are not going to have a good time either.

All this can take place long before a settlement discussion or trial.

If it's settled, though, all the ugliness will likely be kept under a non-disclosure agreement and we'll never know the details...unless Horne chooses to trade money for public disclosure.

Anonymous said...

If UC isn't in the lawsuit, why would anyting Nanos did be relevant? If LANS is the deep pocket, then the suit will focus only on events since June 2006.

It's all about the money!

Anonymous said...

Let's just hope Sara Kauppila gets the money, not John Horne.