4/23 update:The LA Times has dug into the California Air National Guard scandal.

Allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers in the California National Guard are more widespread than the complaints made at a Fresno air base that led to a dramatic leadership shakeup of the organization earlier this month, The Times has found.

The paper’s reporters found workers allege retaliation against whistleblowers and a failure of the Guard’s to protect them.

“When a person blows the whistle on wrongdoing, they face almost a guarantee of retaliation,” said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate who heads the Center for Law and Military Policy and alleges he was targeted for investigation after he reported possible misconduct five years ago. “It’s meant, as in all cases of retaliation, to send a message that if you hold the managers to account, if you bring to light their misconduct, that they’re going to make you pay for it.”

From 4/15: After Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda of the California Air National Guard reported finding her boots full of urine, she felt the investigation had turned into a cover-up.

From the LA Times on this military whistleblower case: 

In August 2015, Pineda filed a whistle-blower complaint. She wrote that the main investigator told her that the evidence showed that a woman could not have urinated in the boots, but that she heard that officers speculated that she urinated in them “for attention.” In the complaint, Pineda said that “makes me want this investigation to be complete and legit to prove that I did not do this to myself.” She added that she feared she could be forced to leave the guard.

Continue Reading Unprofessional leadership cited in Air National Guard whistleblower case. Now those leaders are out.  

Dr. Aaron Westrick

Dr. Aaron Westrick has won reinstatement of his claims under the California False Claims Act. Last Thursday, May 26, 2011, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District (in Los Angeles) issued its decision in State of California ex rel. Westrick v. Itochu International, Inc., Case No. B223053. On January 26, 2010, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County dismissed Westrick’s complaint, holding that his complaint did not plead the allegations of fraud with specificity. The Court of Appeal has now reversed and reinstated Westrick’s claims.

Dr. Westrick began his career as a police officer in Michigan. In 1982, he was shot by a fleeing burglar with a .357 Magnum from approximately five feet away. A Second Chance bulletproof vest, made of Kevlar, saved his life. Westrick subsequently earned a Ph.D. in sociology and criminal justice. In 1996, Second Chance hired Westrick as its director of research. On July 5, 2001, Dr. Westrick received a letter from the Japanese Toyobo Company stating that, “the strength of Zylon fiber decreases under high temperature and humidity conditions.” Dr. Westrick recognized that Zylon would degrade and that police officers would die while wearing "bullet-proof" vests made of Zylon. He asked his employer to recall its Zylon vests and have them tested.  In June 2003, Officer Tony Zeppetella of Oceanside, California, was killed when his $766 Zylon vest failed to stop two bullets. That same month, a police officer in Pennsylvania was seriously wounded when a bullet pierced his Zylon vest.

My colleague, Erik Snyder, presented Dr. Westrick’s argument to the Court of Appeal. It was Erik’s first oral argument. Based on this result, we can expect many more advances for whistleblower rights in Erik’s legal career. Congratulations to Erik and Dr. Westrick.

For more information about Dr. Westrick’s claims and the problems with Zylon, see this prior blog post. Some excerpts from the Court’s new decision follow in the continuation of this blog entry.

Continue Reading Westrick wins California appeal under state false claims act

The California Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District has ruled this week that a lower court erred, for the second time, in dismissing a lawsuit brought by David Ohton, a strength and conditioning coach at San Diego State University (SDSU). In 2003, Ohton had filed an official report detailing NCAA violations, drunkenness and other misconduct by the school’s athletic officials. He provided the information to a state auditor. One of those officials got the report and distributed it to the other accused officials. Thereafter, the football coach made hostile statements about him, reduced his duties, and changed his hours to 6 am to 2 pm. The audit led to the ouster of three athletic officials, Sing-On San Diego reports.

University officials concluded that Ohton’s complaint was not made in "good faith" because it was "hearsay and fully refuted." The Court made clear that "good faith is properly determined based on whether the complainant believed it was true or had reason to believe it was true at the time it was made."

Continue Reading California Court of Appeals reinstates whistleblower’s claim