A whistleblower lawsuit filed against federal contractors at the Hanford vitrification plant is scheduled to go to trial May 2012.
On Friday, attorneys for Bechtel National and URS said they needed that much time to prepare for what they describe as a complex case.
However, the attorney for whistleblower Walter Tamosaitis asked for the case to be heard sooner and accused Bechtel of dragging out the case to the detriment of Tamosaitis.
Tamosaitis believes he was transferred from his position as research and technology manager for the $12.2 billion vitrification plant in retaliation for raising safety and technical concerns. A day after Bechtel National said it had met its June 30 contract requirement to earn a $6 million payment, Tamosaitis raised issues at a meeting that called into question Bechtel's claims, Tamosaitis alleged.
On July 2, Tamosaitis was told he was being removed from the project and immediately escorted from the building, he said. He continues to work for Bechtel subcontractor URS, but in a basement office shared with two copy machines and with little or no meaningful work, said his attorney, Jack Sheridan.
URS has countered in a court document that Tamosaitis sent an email to consultants on the project, making what URS considered inappropriate comments about an email sent by Frank Russo, Bechtel project director for the vit plant.
URS said the email misrepresented the views of a group of experts who had advised the Department of Energy on the plant, upsetting DOE and the experts.
In Benton County Superior Court on Friday, Bechtel attorney Kevin Baumgardner said although alleged retaliation is the underlying basis of the lawsuit, the subject matter is very technical and complex.
The plaintiff has submitted a witness list of more than 125 names, he said. Discovery will involve more than 70,000 pages of documents.
Tracking down witnesses, including those who have moved on to other jobs across the nation, and matching up the relevant documents to them will require "a Herculean effort," said Timothy Lawlor, attorney for URS.
He also pointed out that URS has filed a motion to dismiss the Benton County lawsuit.
If the motion is denied, URS aggressively will pursue a summary judgment, he said.
The case was filed in September but was in limbo for four months in federal court before being returned to Benton County more than two months ago, Baumgardner said.
He asked that the trial be set for April or May of next year, but Sheridan wanted the case to be heard months earlier in October.
"This is not a complex case; it's a whistleblower case," Sheridan said. "A high-placed individual stood up for safety and was hammered down."
Although Tamosaitis remains employed, "They are driving him to quit his job and leave the industry," he said.
"They are winning every day this does not go to court," he said.
Defendants wanted the case moved to federal court, which wasted four months before a federal judge ordered that it be heard instead in Superior Court, he said.
He also said that Bechtel was slow to provide requested documents.
Judge Craig Matheson agreed with the defense, saying it was a complex case and that a trial date at least a year from now is appropriate.
"This is the sort of issue it is important to get right," he said.
He said it appeared to be a case not of bad people, "but people with different perspectives."