By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge, on Wednesday, tossed out most of a lawsuit brought by Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler over the troubled STAARS computer system, but left intact, the suit’s primary allegation.
Judge James Anderson dismissed six allegations in all, including one that could have made the case a class-action lawsuit with every citizen of Alabama a possible plaintiff.
However, Anderson let stand Zeigler’s primary complaint – that former Gov. Robert Bentley and other State officials willfully violated the State’s competitive bid laws in order to award the $47 million contract.
“I feel like this is a preliminary victory – I have standing to sue these buzzards,” Zeigler said. “I don’t want to prematurely claim victory but I feel like this is a very good sign for us going forward. This was really the primary claim that we had against this contract.”
Attorneys for the State will have 10 days to respond to the ruling.
The complaint filed by Zeigler Claims state officials sought to illegally bypass bid laws by resurrecting a long-dormant contract that was originally signed in 1982. In the filing, Zeigler argues that the 1982 contract with CGI, which was then American Management Systems and operates the STAARS system, expired, according to its terms, in 1997, when State officials and CGI failed to renew any portion of it.
Then, in 2012, to avoid bid laws and award the 15-year, $47 million contract, state officials, led by former assistant finance director Rex McDowell, who signed the contract, claimed that an obscure amendment in the 1982 contract allowed it to be renewed at any point, forever.
Zeigler took issue with that claim.
“The (CGI) contract was not renewed after 1994 or before the 1997 expiration,” the lawsuit reads. “Thus, the 1982 contract was fully executed, at the latest, by 1997.”
Neither the contract nor the purported amendments were submitted to the Legislature’s contract review committee.
The STAARS system has been an abject failure. APR’s Bill Britt has reported extensively on the system’s failures, including its failure to pay thousands of vendors, missing deadlines for audit reports, requiring resubmissions of payroll vouchers and wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars on common errors.
“I’m hoping that this ruling will prompt a change of heart on behalf of the state,” Zeigler said. “Maybe the State will switch sides and join me in trying to get our money back from CGI.”