The Ben Allen indictment dominated the news last week. Most readers know the story. Linda Brune provided several boxes of Downtown Jackson Partners documents to the State Auditor and the Clarion-Ledger in 2014 while she was employed as a secretary by DJP. Reporter Jerry Mitchell had a field day and garnered several front page headlines for his scoop. However, the media has not reported that DJP and its former employee have been facing off in several courtrooms.
Downtown Jackson Partners sued Linda Brune on December 10, 2014 in Madison County Court for allegedly embezzling $40,439. The lawsuit also states she was "terminated on July 25, 2014 for sharing confidential corporate information with a reporter from the Clarion-Ledger." Ms. Brune is a resident of Madison County.
The complaint states that Ms. Brune worked as DJP's administrative assistant for several years prior to her termination. She was allowed to "fill out" checks but did not have signature authority. DJP alleges that she "embezzled 38 check instruments representing a total sum of $40,439" by making checks payable to herself and "forging Mr. Allen's signature on each of the checks." She would then allegedly alter the payee's name on the bank statements by "whiting out" (no racism intended) her name and replacing it with the name of a vendor. She would then allegedly copy the altered statement so evidence of the whiteout would not appear. The complaint charges her with several counts of fraud, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment. DJP asked for damages and attorney's fees. Attorney Sam Begley represents DJP.
Ms. Brune filed her answer on January 12, 2015. It contains the standard denials one usually sees in an answer to a complaint. She accused DJP of filing the lawsuit in Madison County due to unfavorable publicity in Hinds COunty . She replied:
"Defendant was given no reason for termination after 17 years of employment with him at the City Council and at Downtown Jackson Partners. Moreover, nothing should be confidential at DJP as they are funded by tax dollars and open to examination of all documents. Mr. Allen's misuse i.e. giving money to those in his favor, laundering money for various organizations, giving checks to his son's friends for non-existent events to be held to promote Jackson totaling $10,000 plus dollars.
She argues that any funds withdrawn from DJP accounts were delivered directly to Mr. Allen. She claims she was "loyal to a fault" and doesn't have the money to "reimburse his slush fund." Nothing else was filed in the case after Ms. Brune submitted her answer. The case was assigned to Judge Steve Ratcliff. However, the voters promoted Judge Ratcliff to Circuit Judge so it is not yet clear which judge will assume this case. Ms. Brune represents herself.
However, DJP also opposed her attempt to obtain unemployment benefits. Ms. Brune applied for unemployment benefits upon her termination. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge on October 1, 2014 (see. p.14 below). DJP told MDES that it had hired a private investigator who found Ms. Brune communicated with the newspaper through her DJP email account and provided copies of DJP documents to the newspaper in violation of company policy. MDES said her intentional violation of company policy was sufficient grounds for her termination and denial of benefits. The hearing officer stated that the communications with the newspaper - not the State Auditor- were what got her fired.
Ms. Brune appealed the decision in Hinds County Circuit Court in October 2014 and sued MDES and Downtown Jackson Partners. She is again representing herself. The case was assigned to Judge Winston Kidd. MDES moved to transfer the case to Madison County. State law mandates such suits be filed where the petitioner resides. Ms. Brune lives in Ridgland. She argued the offices of Mr. Allen and DJP's lawyer were closer to the Hinds County Courthouse than the courthouse in Canton. However, it was MDES that filed the motion to transfer. She argued she was fired for cooperating with the State Auditor. Judge Kidd approved the change of venue last month.