Fayette County jurors Thursday decided that the reason behind former county attorney Margaret Kannensohn's firing of her longtime assistant was poor performance, not retaliation.
In a whistle-blower lawsuit, Wanda Brown alleged she was fired in February 2005, shortly after she went to authorities with her suspicions that Kannensohn wrongly billed for child-support reimbursements when she didn't perform the work.
Current Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts said he was pleased with the verdict. "I never had any doubt about it, but it was very traumatic for Margaret to go through this. They were alleging things that weren't true, and we proved they weren't true."
Brown's attorney said Kannensohn earned more than $77,000 in child-support money over the course of several years. Roberts disputed the figure, saying it was closer to $26,000.
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Kannensohn was county attorney from 1994 to 2006. After not running for re-election, she now works in the office's cold checks division.
During the past two days, Kannensohn defended herself in testimony, saying she worked extensively with child-support cases, but did not keep detailed records because she was not required to do so. Sometimes, she worked on cases via e-mail or mobile phone even when she was in another state or at gatherings such as the Fancy Farm political picnic in Western Kentucky, she said.
Kannensohn testified she fired Brown because of "ongoing disputes and bitterness" and because Brown fixed traffic tickets and put a part-time worker, who was a University of Kentucky student, on the office's health insurance roll despite Kannensohn's orders not to do so.
Brown's attorneys also did their to best portray Kannensohn as an absentee boss who left it to Brown to keep the office running. Kannensohn said she sought treatment for an alcohol problem in August 2004. Earlier that year, she had dropped out of the Sixth District Congressional race.
At the heart of the jury's deliberations was whether Brown went to authorities with her allegations in good faith. She had made copies of Kannensohn's calendars and billing sheets before reporting her.
"She had suspicions Margaret Kannensohn was stealing from the taxpayers. Whether she was or not, I don't know, but it was suspicious on top of the drinking and absenteeism," said George Cox, Brown's attorney, during closing arguments.
Another question for jurors to decide was whether Brown's going to authorities played a direct role in her firing a few months later.
Brown was a good employee, Cox said. "Everything goes smoothly until this reporting starts," he said. "She was unceremoniously dumped. Her life was destroyed."
Brown had asked for a maximum of $3 million in punitive damages plus a maximum of $275,000 in compensatory damages.
"She wants you to open up a vault to the county attorney's office because she didn't get enough after she was fired," Roberts told the jury.