By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—A lawsuit was filed late Thursday night in Montgomery Circuit Court, over the $47 million dollar black hole known as STAARS.
At the heart of the complaint is the no-bid contract entered into by Governor Robert Bentley and the State Department of Finance. The suit brought by State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who is suing in his official capacity and as an individual, will go before Montgomery Circuit Judge William Shashy. In the complaint, Zeigler is also representing, “a class of all taxpayers whose taxes are funding payment for the illegal STAARS contract.”
Not only is CGI Technology and Solutions, Inc., the company that supplied the system, named as a defendant in the case, but Governor Bentley, Attorney General Luther Strange and Acting Finance Director, Bill Newton as defendants as well.
The fiasco surrounding the implementation of the STAARS accounting software became public when the Alabama Political Reporter, in December 2015, published the first of a series of articles that outline its failures, the no-bid contract and the steps taken by Newton and Bentley to keep the public from knowing the full extent of the problem.
The complaint filed by J. Doyle Fuller and Susan G. Copeland from the Montgomery-based firm Fuller and Copeland, seeks to void the contract, enjoin further payments and restitution.
Bentley, Strange and Newton are being sued in their official capacities.
Bentley representing the State and Assistant Finance Director, Rex McDowell, in November 2012, signed a series of Amendments to a 1982 contract between the Alabama Department of Finance and American Management Systems. CGI Technology and Solutions, Inc. acquired American Management Systems, Inc., in 2004.
McDowell is currently on mandatory administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into supposed software security breaches.
Newton, and his former Chief Legal Counsel, Richard Cater, have stated STAARS, as supplied by the Canadian software giant, CGI.com, is simply an upgrade of software purchased in 1982. Therefore, they did not have to put it out for bid. Cater compared STAARS to Microsoft’s operating system upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8.
But, as the Zeigler suit explains it, the contract with “The American Management license expired on its own terms in 1997, if it was not renewed before its expiration.”
The suit alleges that, because the STAARS contract violates that State bid laws, it should be found void.
Attorney General Strange is a named defendant because of his role as the State’s Chief Law enforcement officer.
The Court is being asked to appoint Zeigler as representative in the class-action suit, which could involve hundreds of thousands of State taxpayers.
The plaintiff asked the Court for a rescission of the contracts because, “the parties knew full well the requirements of the Competitive Bid Law when they entered into the STAARS contract, and the amendments… they had been advised the Competitive Bid Law had to be followed when purchasing ERP software. The complaint contends Bentley and others “chose to enter into the STAARS Contract and the amendments…despite legal advice to the contrary.”
The suit also seeks “restitution from CGI of all amounts paid to it for the cost of the STAARS.”
Throughout APR’s investigation of STAARS, Bentley and Newton repeatedly doubled down on their support for the system. They have intimidated those suspected of providing information to APR, threatening department heads and employees.
A summary of the STAARS investigation by APR can be found on our website.