Tuntland Calls WSI General Counsel Jodi Bjornson - Part 2

November 10, 2010

Tuntland introduced a series of emails between Jim and Halvorson regarding Long while he was on leave. 

Tuntland:  Did you have a hand in preparing those?
Bjornson:  Yes, I reviewed them.
Tuntland:   What was the nature of your involvement?
Bjornson:  I'm not trying to be evasive, I'm trying to remember, it was many years ago.  Any letters with Jim would have been edited.  I helped prepare or review.  It's unlikely I started from scratch, but I had a hand because it's a legal issue. 
Tuntland:  You were here when Blunt talked about his recreated document in a side file. Wahlin said there would be an open record request.  How would the public have found out about that document?
Bjornson:  I have no idea.
Tuntland:  Jim asked why he was suspended with pay, right?
Bjornson:  Yes.  Jim was aware of the issues.  The response letter he got he knew, he knew.
Tuntland:  You realize he said he did not know?
Bjornson:  I realize that.
Tuntland:  You gave a second deposition regarding Blunt and Leingang in October of 2007.
Bjornson:  Yes.
Tuntland:  Following that, did you tell the States Attorney they should talk to Jim Long?
Bjornson:  Yes.
Tuntland:  That he might have helpful information?
Bjornson:  Yes.

Tuntland:  At WSI there was room for lighthearted stuff? 
Bjornson:  Yes.
Tuntland:  Did you once cover Jim's floor with dixie cups full of water? 
Bjornson:  Yes.
Tuntland:  Did you bring your daughter to Halloween at WSI. 
Bjornson:   Yes.
Tuntland:  Did Jim talk with her?
Bjornson:  Yes, Jim's very good with kids.

Mitch Armstrong cross-examines Jodi Bjornson.

It was established that WSI ran under the "Carvel Model of Governance" which meant the board would make policies and the CEO would run the operation.  Bjornson testified she had day to day interaction with Long while he was at WSI.  She considered him a friend, but that changed in the fall of 2007.  The WSI team was fractured, there was in-fighting, a contentious audit, the CEO had been charged, there were things in the press, and internal HR issues.  She was hopeful Long would work to make the team more stable, but sensed resistance and that his mind was made up on his path. 

She said Long had not come to her with specific illegalities about Halvorson, but that Halvorson and Long were not getting along.  Long was upset and disappointed that Halvorson had been appointed CEO.  She recalled that Wahlin called her once when she was out of state regarding a charge of nepotism and that Long was upset. 

Armstrong then moved into questions regarding the depositions she had given in criminal actions. 

Armstrong:  You testified in the Blunt trial?
Bjornson:  Yes.
Armstrong:  You're still employed by WSI?
Bjornson:  Yes.
Armstrong:  Did any others testify?
Bjornson:  Yes.  Camie O'Connor and Karla Bernhardt.
Armstrong:  Are they still employed by WSI?
Bjornson:  Yes.

Bjornson testified that while she was trying to reconnect the executive team in fall of 2007, she became aware that Long had tape recorded a conversation between them.  This angered her.  She said that Long referred to Halvorson as a shitty leader, that he was a bad dude and evil.  She said this was while she was still trying to reconcile the team, but led her to believe she could not reconcile with Long. 

She said that during that time period WSI was an awful place to work.  There was constant turmoil and that audio recording had been made during that time, before Long was involved in the criminal investigation. 

She testified she met with Halvorson at Perkin's restaurant because they were paranoid about meeting at WSI office.  They determined the situation with Long could not go on and so contacted HR consultant Hunter Lott over the telephone.  They also met with the Attorney General's Tag Anderson solely regarding Long.  At that time, Long had had no contact with law enforcement.  She said they discussed legal issues, consequences, and options regarding Long's employment.  She said Anderson told Halvorson to put clear reasons for his termination in writing. 

Armstrong introduced a document titled "Critical Incidents" from Halvorson for Long's termination.  Bjornson said she was involved in writing this.  She said that Halvorson had brought documents to the AG meeting about the computer project situation and how Long was not doing what Halvorson expected. 

Armstrong introduced a letter Halvorson sent to Long regarding the ITTP project, that Long's judgment and decisions had been questioned in recent months. 

Regarding Tuntland's questions regarding her role in preparing or reviewing documents, Armstrong established she had reviewed Long's responses and that she was pushing for Long's return if he could be conciliatory, but that Long's responses did not indicate a willingness to come back to WSI. 

Bjornson testified they had delivered Halvorson's information about Long to AG's Tag Anderson on October 17, 2007 and this was after Long had filed his whistleblower complaint. 

Regarding Long and Peltz, Bjornson said the three of them were friends and had alot of fun.  She said when Sonja Nallie alleged they were having an affair in a board meeting, it was a shock to everybody.  After that, Long said Billie told him she wanted more. 

Bjornson stated on April 2, 2007, Blunt had called her and Halvorson while they were out of state about a complaint he'd received regarding Jim and Billie.  He did not know who had complained and they talked about where he could get guidance.  She was aware that Blunt had talked with Long after this conversation about the issue. 

She testified that because they were friends she saw more then other people did.  For example, Billie had made Jim an audio cd.  On it was a suggestive song, a pop culture song called "When I Think About You I Touch Myself".  She also testified that she and Billie and Long and Romi Leingang went to lunch and that Jim told her later Billie was rubbing his leg under the table. 

She testified she was aware of the tape recording of Nallie and Hutchings and that Halvorson had directed Long not to tape anymore, but she believed Long was still recording as she remembered during that Halloween, and Jim was great with kids, he was chasing her daughter and his tape recorder fell out of his pocket.  "Who carries their tape recorder with them?"

She agreed with Halvorson's decision to terminate Long even though he had filed his whistleblower complaint.  She said she knew the complaint had nothing to do with his termination because she had cooperated with prosecutors as well. 

Bjornson testified that WSI got Long's manifesto from the press, that bits and pieces were accurate, but there was nothing new they had not seen.  She found it personally hurtful. 

She said Long was then making statements to the press about injured workers and that WSI was corrupt.  She stated she was involved in claims handling, but Long was not.  She detailed the multi-faceted process claims go through, said they get 20,000 new claims a year, and that 92% of those claims are accepted. She also said there is a structured appeal process for claims that are denied.

She said that Long and she worked together on the state performance audit and at no time did Long raise concerns regarding illegal activity.

She recalled at one point the executive team met to determine whether they could bring Long back, but they determined nobody could work with him and he was terminated.  She said Long's position was phased out. 

She also said that regarding the 4% pay increase, after the Attorney General's meeting, everyone was fully paid after that. 

Tom Tuntland then asked more questions of Bjornson. 

It was established that regarding the JR Runnings email about WSI salaries, there had been nothing illegal about sending that email, but Blunt still wanted to find out who had sent it. 

She said that Halvorson did not like Jim and vice versa, but that when she and Long had conversations about Halvorson it was always about what was best for the organization. 

She said she did not report Long's derogatory comments about Halvorson and that she had made derogatory remarks also, but to his face.  She also said that the terrible atmosphere at WSI in fall of 2007 was not all due to Long. 

Tuntland established that as an at will employee if Halvorson had wanted to fire Long he could just say, I don't like your glasses, you're fired. 

Tuntland asked about going over open records law with Long and one person consent tape recording laws.  Bjornson did not recall doing so, but said she could have. 

Tuntland:  Did you know Jim questioned Halvorson about the propriety of giving Spencer contact lists?
Bjornson:  No, I didn't.
Tuntland:  Before Jim met with Mike Quinn, did you tell Halvorson you had advised the prosecutor you would have Jim questioned?
Bjornson:  I don't think so.
Tuntland:  Do you know?
Bjornson:  No.

Tuntland:  Jim did talk with you regarding ITTP?
Bjornson:  Yes.
Tuntland:  He was concerned about the cost and bringing the project in on time?
Bjornson:  Sure, may have.
Tuntland:   You advised him to go to the board members?
Bjornson:  No, specifically instructing him on that is not part of my memory.
Tuntland:  Are you saying you didn't or you can't remember?
Bjornson:  I was concerned that bits and pieces were being miscontrued.
Tuntland:  Did you see the description of his position under the project charter?
Bjornson:  I don't know.

Tuntland:  The sexual harassment policy was signed by every executive team member except Halvorson.  At the time of that meeting, did Blunt say, we're doing this because of Long and Peltz?
Bjornson:  Not to my knowledge.

Tuntland:  You talked about Billie giving Jim and suggestive song.  Do you know who Joe Cocker is?
Bjornson:  He's a singer.
Tuntland:  If a male gives a song to a female called, "You Can Keep Your Hat On", is that suggestive?
Bjornson:  I don't know the song.

Tuntland established that Bjornson had not observed Billie rubbing Long's leg at lunch and that Bjornson had gone for pedicures with Long and thought Billie had come along also. 

Bjornson agreed that Long had gone to the press during the time of his suspension.  She said it was not long after he had been suspended before he went to the press.  Tuntland asked whether the press had said Jim was barred from the WSI building and also barred from conversations with employees or vendors.  Bjornson replied, he could have been.

Tuntland further established with Bjornson that the letter suspending Long was an open record.  He asked whether she knew who Steve Cates is.  She did and she said she knew Cates had a publication and a blog and was a strong Blunt supporter.  As to whether Cates went after Long with a vengance, she could not recall. 

Tuntland:  Regarding the rejection rate on claims, wasn't there a report before Connolly that said North Dakota was 51st in the nation in the award of benefits?
Bjornson:  There could have been.
Tuntland:  North Dakota never made it to number 50?
Bjornson:  I don't know.

It was established that Long's position was phased out, but all of his duties were put into a new position, the COO, which was filled by John Halvorson.

Lastly Tuntland established that Halvorson had the power to fire Long except for instances of discrimination against race, gender, religion, or whistleblowing.  And that there was no law against that.

Armstrong again questioned Bjornson.  Bjornson told him that many of the allegations inside Long's 26 page document were not accurate. 

It was established that the JR Runnings email was sent in 2005, well before Long was put on leave.  Bjornson said the email sent to staff regarding salaries hurt employee morale because even though it was an open record, she felt it was invasive. 

Lastly, about Halvorson's ability to fire Long, Bjornson testified that Halvorson would go to legal and ask several questions before making any significant decisions at WSI.        

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