by Max Brantley
A jury awarded Bob Means, a psychologist, $110,442 for his firing in July 2008 from a contract job at the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center. He'd worked there for 37 years. It's an agency of state Rehabilitation Services, a division of the Arkansas Workforce Education Department.
Means said he was fired by Robert Trevino, director of Rehabilitation Services, because he had complained for months to a variety of people — including the U.S. Office of Inspector General, a state senator, the governor's office and his supervisor — about money wasted on services provided to a client who was ineligible. Means contended the services, in addition to being wasteful, might violate federal law. Though no longer eligible, the man received housing, transportation and other support, Means contended.
Trevino testified that he fired Means on orders of Bill Walker, director of the department. Trevino said he received Walker's order while vacationing at Padre Island, Texas. Walker called him from the Cayman Islands, where he was vacationing. Trevino insisted the firing was the result of a plan he and Walker had long discussed about operational changes at the center. Means' attorney, Scott Hickam of Hot Springs, said Trevino could produce no documents substantiating that. And coincidentally, the order followed by three days Mean's providing of more information to the Office of Inspector General.
Means produced testimony from four people, including one current administrator, that the unidentified man being served was one of several clients at the center known by the acronym "PMS," or politically mandated service. Means also produced testimony in the trial from an unsuccessful claim before the state Claims Commission that his superiors had looked into his computer history. Trevino denied looking at Means e-mail — and denied knowledge of the client for whose services Means blew the whistle. He had, however, acknowledged at the Claims Commission finding information about horse racing on Mean's computer.
Hickam will be filing a claim for attorney fees in the case, meaning the loss to the state likely will be greater than the jury verdict if there isn't a successful appeal.
I have sought a comment from Walker's department on the verdict and the testimony about "PMS" clients.