SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Attorneys for Chatham Area Transit claimed the former CEO spent tens of thousands of dollars on legal advice about “routine issues.”
The claim is part of CAT’s response to a whistleblower lawsuit filed by former CEO Bacarra Mauldin.
CAT’s board of directors terminated her contract on Jan. 26.
Yet the detailed legal response to the lawsuit is the first time the public transit agency has explained why the board “lost confidence” in Mauldin’s ability to run the agency.
Almost daily, at times, Mauldin spoke to attorneys with the Jackson Lewis law firm to ask for advice about how to run the region’s largest public transit agency, attorneys said in the filing.
The expenses paid for by CAT - a taxpayer funded agency - amounted to more than $45,000 between June and December, according to receipts attached to the court filing and analyzed by WTOC Investigates.
The payments went to Jackson Lewis - a national law firm that specializes in labor and employment law.
The allegations are outlined in a 26-page opposition filing by attorneys who are now defending Chatham Area Transit after Mauldin filed a lawsuit last month.
Mauldin’s lawsuit says she is entitled to whistleblower protections. She claims she was terminated in retaliation after she notified the Federal Transit Authority about CAT board violations of federal regulations.
Her complaint was specific to CAT board action taken in November to award a legal services contract to another law firm - and not Jackson Lewis.
But CAT attorneys contend that the agency’s board members first became aware of Mauldin’s excessive legal spending shortly after she was hired to lead the agency at the end of June.
Her legal spending “greatly concerned” board members, attorneys stated in the filing.
“Jackson Lewis’ invoices show that between July and September 2020, Ms. Mauldin communicated with Jackson Lewis attorneys for legal advice 40 out of the 66 total workdays.”
And it “became apparent from the invoices that it was in fact Jackson Lewis that was running the agency,” the filing reads.
CAT later discovered that Mauldin even billed for dates prior to her employment “for assisting with the drafting and negotiation of (her) own employment contract,” according to the opposition filing.
“…She failed to inform the board during the interview process that she would need to consult with outside counsel almost daily to perform her basic duties,” said attorneys for the transit agency. “This apparent lack of honesty led certain board members to distrust (Mauldin) and lose confidence in her judgment.”
The board terminated Mauldin’s contract in a 6-to-3 vote during a meeting on Jan. 26.
The opposition filing does not disclose what kind of legal advice Mauldin sought from Jackson Lewis or any previous relationship she had with the firm.
“Any suggestion by anyone that Jackson Lewis or any lawyer was running CAT is simply not true, said Ed Buckley, an attorney who represents Mauldin in the lawsuit. “She was acting as the CEO and was performing her responsibilities.”
Mauldin’s decision to consult legal advice, Buckley said, was her effort to make sure the agency was being run “as safely as possible” for employees and customers during a pandemic, he said.
Asked if he had read the legal advice Bacarra received while working for CAT, he said he had not because CAT has not allowed him to do so, and it’s protected under attorney-client privileges by CAT.
Jackson Lewis did not respond to WTOC’s request for comment.
WTOC Investigates first reported that Mauldin was technically fired “without cause”, which means she can pursue a $92,500 severance package.