Georgia to pay whistleblower $280,000

Georgia has agreed to pay a woman $280,000 to settle a whistleblower lawsuit in which she claimed she was fired for reporting that two Ethics Commission lawyers were running a private law practice on state time.

According to her attorney, the lawsuit filed June 24, citing the Georgia Whistleblower Act, was  settled to prevent the matter from going to trial.

Jennifer Ward said she was fired Nov. 18, 2009, in retaliation for reporting that State Ethics Commission attorneys Thomas Plank and Yasha Heidari had met with clients and attended court hearings when they were supposed to be working for the commission. She also said they used state computers to research private cases and had abused sick time. A subsequent investigation by the Office of the Inspector General also found that the men represented a lobbying group, Bright Ideas Consulting, which is regulated by the commission.

Ward said in her suit that she filed a report involving the two men just before Plank was named acting executive secretary of the commission. Ward was fired on Nov. 18, 2009, about a month after Plank moved into the temporary assignment, the complaint said.

Heidari resigned from the commission last April to devote more time to the private law firm Heidari & Plank, which was founded in March 2009. Plank resigned Aug. 16, a month after the inspector general's investigation found he and Heidari had pursued their private business while on state time.

Heidari could not be reached by telephone or e-mail on Monday, but last summer, just after the state investigation was released, he described the inspector general's report as "pathetic" and "50 pages of fluff." He said the inspector general's office had spent a year investigating and found little, but released the lengthy report in part to justify its existence to lawmakers.

Plank could not be reached for comment. There was no telephone listing or e-mail contact for him on the firm’s website.

The 1993 Georgia Whistleblower Act prohibits retaliation against any employee reporting certain wrongdoing.