Sunday, July 16, 2017

Attorney's Whistleblower Suit Against Virgin Islands Governor Survives

The Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands affirmed and reversed in part in a suit brought by an attorney against the Governor

After Governor Mapp assumed office in January 2015, he hired Randolph Knight as his  Chief of Staff and Emile Henderson, Esq., as his Chief Counsel. Shortly after the election, Henderson recruited [plaintiff] Mills-Williams to join his staff as a Deputy Attorney. Purportedly, Henderson told Mills-Williams that the Mapp administration “was going to be unlike other administrations and that it was going to be ethical, do all actions by the book and be a reputable administration.” Mills-Williams accepted the job offer, and began her employment in the Office of the Governor, where Henderson served as her supervisor.

At some point, the St. Croix Avis newspaper submitted a request to the Government of the Virgin Islands under the territory’s Freedom of Information Act, title 3, sections 881-884 of the Virgin Islands Code, for information related to Knight, Henderson, and Governor Mapp. The matter was assigned to Mills-Williams, who determined that Governor Mapp, Knight, and Henderson must be “walled off” from the request because it concerned them. (J.A. 181). However, after learning that Governor Mapp wished to review the documents before they were sent to the St. Croix Avis, Mills-Williams told her supervisor, Henderson, that doing so would be unlawful. Henderson indicated that he would advise the Governor.

Mills-Williams provided the documents to the St. Croix Avis on September 14, 2015. Afterward, Henderson informed her that Governor Mapp and Knight were upset that the documents were transmitted without providing them with an opportunity to review and redact them. It was also made clear to Mills-Williams that she was to stonewall any further Freedom of Information Act requests and not produce any more documents. (J.A. 182). On September 30, 2015, Henderson advised Mills-Williams that Governor Mapp had decided to transfer her from the Office of the Governor to the Virgin Islands Department of Justice, and that she should report to work there beginning on October 5, 2015. Mills-Williams received an official letter of termination from the Office of the Governor on October 7, 2015. After becoming informed that she was being transferred to the Virgin Islands Department of Justice, Mills-Williams was directed to report to the Department of Property and Procurement, Office of the Solicitor General, and the Department of Labor. No Notice of Personnel Action (“NOPA”) was ever received or signed reflecting any of the assignments to the various executive agencies nor was Mills-Williams ever paid for work performed since October 2, 2015. (J.A. 183).

Mills-Williams was transferred and sued as a whistleblower and on other grounds

On November 13, 2015, Governor Mapp published a press release stating that Mills-Williams associated with a convicted criminal—her attorney—and as being untrustworthy with confidential information. Around the same time, Governor Mapp also appeared on local radio talk shows and repeated the same information. Governor Mapp also terminated Mills-Williams’s employment with the Department of Justice. 

She appealed from the Superior Court's dismissal of the suit

The court

The Superior Court correctly applied the plausibility standard, and committed no error when it dismissed the misrepresentation cause of action in the November 4, 2015 second amended complaint and denied leave to plead a defamation claim in the proposed third amended complaint. While the Superior Court committed no error when it dismissed the whistleblower claims against Knight and Walker and denied leave to raise a whistleblower claim against Henderson, it erred when it dismissed the whistleblower claim against Governor Mapp and the Office of the Governor and denied leave to amend to assert the claim against the Office of the Attorney General. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the Superior Court’s August 31, 2016 opinion, and remand the case to the Superior Court for further proceedings with respect to the whistleblower claims against Governor Mapp, the Office of the Governor, and—if properly served and found to have legal capacity to be sued—the Office of the Attorney General.

The Virgin Islands Consortium  had this earlier coverage of the controversy. (Mike Frisch)

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