Brian Liebich, fired last year from his job as manager of a Caltrans unit that tests bridge foundations, began a courtroom battle Wednesday to recover his reputation and his job before a State Personnel Board administrative law judge.
The nationally known expert on testing reinforced concrete foundations for freeway structures was fired last fall after a Bee investigation revealed that a technician under his supervision had fabricated test data. The Bee also quoted internal Caltrans documents suggesting that Liebich knowingly misrepresented and covered up the full extent of the problem.
As head of the state Department of Transportation foundation testing branch, Liebich also oversaw suspect testing on the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge – the subject of ongoing legislative concerns and technical reviews.
Caltrans' firing notice excluded any mention of testing fraud. Instead, it detailed alleged theft by Liebich of construction materials and more than 200 improper approvals of extra pay for two technicians Duane Wiles, who admitted falsifying test data, and Walter Wyllie. The technicians also helped Liebich move allegedly stolen materials – on state time and using state vehicles – to Liebich's private property in Susanville, about 185 miles northeast of Sacramento.
Caltrans also fired Wiles, but rescinded the firing and allowed Wiles to retire with full benefits. The agency justified the move as saving the cost of an administrative hearing.
Liebich "violated every ethics or incompatible activity on the books" for personal gain, said Barbara J. Seidman, a deputy state attorney general who represented the agency at the hearing. She called the damage he caused to Caltrans' reputation "irreparable, and therefore his termination should be upheld."
Liebich has denied all charges.
In its firing notice, Caltrans also cited Liebich in connection with the discovery of pornographic images on his work computer, but later dropped those claims as a cause for his dismissal.
Liebich's attorney, Steven L. Simas, said at the hearing Wednesday that his client had a previously flawless record. Simas blamed the firing on "political heat followed by a lot of scandals," rather than wrongdoing by Liebich.
The hearing is expected to conclude by Oct. 19, and normally a ruling would be made public about 90 days later.