“They Blew the Whistle on What They Believed was Wrongdoing”

I made my early morning newspaper rounds and saw both the Sun Herald and the Clarion Ledger picked up the story of the reply briefs submitted by the Missouri Qui Tam team.  We start with the Sun Herald coverage by Michael Newsom:

Attorneys for the two women at the center of the State Farm whistleblower lawsuit asserted on Monday their clients did what they thought was right and legally recovered evidence against the company.

 Attorneys for Cori and Kerri Rigsby filed a 51-page, 17-point rebuttal in federal court Monday to State Farm’s counterclaims the two women conspired with lawyer Dickie Scruggs and other attorneys to steal confidential business records and profit from false charges against the insurer, which has been sued by Scruggs and others after Hurricane Katrina.

The story continues:

The filing Monday is the latest development in a federal lawsuit that charges State Farm defrauded the federal government through a complex scheme by wrongfully denying insurance claims and shifting the burden for the storm’s damage to the taxpayer-funded National Flood Insurance Program. But State Farm attorneys have said the suit should be dismissed because they said it’s based on false charges. The company is seeking monetary damages.

The Rigsbys first made their allegations public in August 2006. Missouri-based attorney Anthony L. DeWitt, who is among those representing the whistleblowers, said Monday the two were only doing what’s right when they reported the alleged offenses.

“They blew the whistle on what they believed was wrongdoing,” DeWitt said.

Attorneys for the Rigsbys want the State Farm counterclaim dismissed.

On the charge the two stole confidential information, attorneys for the Rigsbys deny that “information about a criminal enterprise and rampant fraud against the United States taxpayer are in any way commercially sensitive, confidential or private information.”

In response to a motion that says the sisters and the attorneys wrongfully gained access to the files, lawyers for the Rigsbys, from the firm Graves Bartle & Marcus, responded strongly. They said the company’s attorneys were telling “outright lies” and they represented a “corrupt corporation” and have “little regard for the the truth” or the reputations of those it attacks.

“It is unfortunate but hardly surprising that State Farm would resort to this strategy, given that it faces potential civil liability reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars and an ongoing criminal investigation regarding the handling of Hurricane Katrina claims,” the document said.

And the myth of the Cori and Kerri being document thieves?

The Rigsbys’ attorneys also assert that every person has the right to communicate information to law enforcement.

The Rigsbys say what they did actually is in keeping with a contract they had signed with State Farm and its vendors that required them to “exercise an undivided loyalty” to State Farm customers and also guides them to act in a “legal and ethical manner,” according to the document filed Monday.

The Clarion Ledger report picks up the AP coverage which has more of a Todd Graves slant.

A team of plaintiffs lawyers that includes a former high-ranking federal prosecutor denies infiltrating an insurance company’s computer database to help build a case against the insurer after Hurricane Katrina………

One of the firms accused of misconduct by State Farm responded Monday by calling for the judge to sanction the company’s lawyers for making “unsubstantiated allegations.”

“These are outright lies told by an arrogant and corrupt organization that has little regard for the truth or the reputations of the (lawyers) it attacks,” attorneys from the Missouri-based Graves Bartle & Marcus firm wrote in court papers.

The case involves Cori and Kerri Rigsby, two sisters who once worked for Alabama-based E.A. Renfroe, a company State Farm contracted to provide damages assessments after the hurricane.

The Rigsby sisters copied thousands of pages of internal State Farm claims records in 2006 and turned them over to tort lawyer Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and others. Scruggs sued State Farm on the sisters’ behalf, claiming they were “whistleblowers” with insider knowledge of fraud.

State Farm spokesman Phil Supple said Monday the company was “still reviewing the ten documents filed today by the Rigsby sisters and their counsel.”……..

State Farm claims Todd Graves, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, was present at a meeting in Pascagoula in 2006 in which the Rigsby sisters used a laptop to access State Farm databases.

The motion filed Monday says Graves did no such thing.

I found the full AP report here on the Clarion Ledger Website. I think this quote well sums the problem with State Farm’s arguments:

The firm of Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Gorny said in a motion filed Monday that it should be allowed to remain the sisters’ counsel, in part because it was never associated with the Scruggs Katrina Group or the Katrina Litigation Group.

The firm said it hopes the court “will judge the conduct of the attorneys accused here by State Farm according to those facts and the applicable law, and will render a decision on matters relating to disqualification that will reflect the facts of this matter, not guilt by distant and uninformed association.”

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