By Roger Shuler
07 July 2009
A U.S. Department of Justice whistleblower has been fired from her job after speaking out about wrongdoing in the Middle District of Alabama.
Tamarah Grimes, who served on the prosecution team in the case against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, received notice of her termination on June 9.
A legal aide in Montgomery, Alabama, Grimes first came to public attention last November after Adam Zagorin, of Time magazine, broke a story about her allegations of wrongdoing by the prosecution team in the Siegelman case.
Grimes provided documents to Justice Department watchdogs showing that Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, had stayed on the Siegelman case long after she had supposedly recused herself. Grimes also provided evidence of improper contacts between jurors and members of the prosecution team.
More recently, attorneys for Scrushy had requested permission to interview Grimes about allegations of prosecutorial misconduct during the Siegelman/Scrushy case. And on June 1, Grimes submitted a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, providing more details about misconduct in the Siegelman case.
Roughly one week after those two events, Grimes received notice of her termination.
Terry Derden, from the DOJ's Executive Office for United States Attorneys, notified Grimes of her termination. The agency claims the firing was unrelated to her whistleblower actions, Grimes said. A press release from Grimes about her termination states:
"In a letter sent to Ms. Grimes' attorney on June 9, 2009, the agency stated that the whistleblower disclosures were unrelated to her termination. Rather, on behalf of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, Mr. Derden alleges that Ms. Grimes's termination arose from a management decision made (in an) after-hours meeting in the lobby bar at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Montgomery, Alabama, during an active mediation more than 3 months after the agency learned of Ms. Grimes's whistleblower disclosures."
Grimes said her termination does not square with much of what she had been told as a DOJ employee:
"As a federal employee with a previously exemplary record, the decision to engage in protected activity and file whistleblower claims under the 'No Fear Act was a careful decision made of necessity and conscience. In consideration of necessity, as federal employees, we are continuously reminded of our duty to report waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct. We are assured that the U.S. Department of Justice is an Equal Employment Opportunity workplace. We are even offered 'safe conduits' for making EEO and whistleblower claims.
"It is my hope that any federal employee who may be considering a decision to engage in protected EEO or whistleblower activity under the 'No Fear Act' will learn from my example. In reality, there is much to fear from filing an EEO claim or a whistleblower claim under the 'No Fear Act,' and there are no 'safe conduits' for making such claims. Ultimately there is little value in the performance of your duty as a federal employee, or even as a loyal citizen of the United States, if the result is loss of your security clearance and termination of your federal employment. The knowledge that you have admirably performed your duties as a federal employee cannot pay the mortgage or buy food for your family when you are rewarded with whistleblower retaliation."
Grimes says she is the second employee to be terminated in the Middle District of Alabama for opposing unlawful conduct in the workplace. A third employee, she says, awaits her fate after seeking relief from violence in the workplace.
Can someone act on behalf of DOJ employees who report wrongdoing? That, Grimes says, probably will be up to Attorney General Eric Holder:
"My hope remains with the Attorney General of the United States. I remain confident that Mr. Holder will provide assistance to the employees of the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Alabama, to wrongfully terminated former employees of the U.S. Attorney's Office, and to citizens of the United States within the Middle District of Alabama whose interests have not been well served under the Canary administration."
Roger Shuler resides in Birmingham, Alabama. A 1978 graduate of the University of Missouri, Shuler worked 11 years as a reporter and editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald before working 19 years in several editorial positions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). He blogs at Legal Schnauzer, where this story was originally published.