J.P. Jones, the Agriculture Department whistleblower who chose to fight back when his bosses turned on him, is about to have his day in court.
Arguments in the case of Jones v. John R. Block, secretary of agriculture, are scheduled for Jan. 21 before U.S. District Court Judge John Pratt.
Jones is seeking an order that would return him to the job he lost when he complained about the behavior of a superior at the Texas headquarters of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), which administers federal crop-support programs.
His boss, Wayne Mayfield, was suspended for 30 days last year after a Department of Agriculture investigation validated Jones' complaints and found Mayfield guilty of sexually harassing four female employes and misusing government vehicles.
For his trouble, Jones was transferred from the ASCS office at College Station to a stark little office at the agency's Washington headquarters, where he was assigned to what he called a "make-work" paper-shuffling job while he continued to collect his $55,600 salary.
But Jones' venture into whistleblowing was unusual on a couple of counts:
*Rather than fading into the retirement that USDA officials apparently had in mind for him, Jones, 62, filed one complaint after another until he got attention.
*Unlike bureaucrats who can only vaguely make a connection between their whistleblowing and the retaliation it drew, Jones and his attorney, Andrew L. Lipps, have uncovered ASCS documents that spell out the planned retaliation.
*And instead of ignoring the abusive telephone calls he received after he got to Washington, Jones put a tracer on them. Evidence that he and Lipps intend to introduce may link the calls to high-level officials at the department.
Jones, a Republican, crossed swords with Mayfield in 1981, after the Reagan administration named Mayfield, who previously worked under Jones, to replace Jones as state executive director of the ASCS.
Initially, Jones complained that he was being eased out of responsibilities at the state office. The more serious troubles began when he complained to USDA officials in Washington about allegations of sexual harassment of female employes by Mayfield.
In 1984, two days after Mayfield and another Texas ASCS official stripped Jones of most of his duties and criticized him for complaining to Washington, Jones asked the USDA inspector general to investigate.
Two weeks later, according to documents filed in the District Court, the state executive committee of ASCS met to discuss more disciplinary action against Jones. Minutes from the meeting indicate that the committee decided to fire Jones after the investigation was finished.
The committee, however, apparently counted on Mayfield's being cleared in the probe. When he was found guilty, instead, Jones no longer was an inviting target for dismissal. ASCS officials in Texas and Washington ordered him to report immediately to a new post in the capital.
Jones, who reported for duty in late 1984, said, "I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of quitting." He shuffled his papers, filed complaints alleging his rights had been violated and then he and Lipps brought suit against the department, seeking his reinstatement.
Jones underwent surgery late last summer and has been recovering on sick leave at College Station. He is back home, Lipps agreed, but the whistleblower's tune won't be a happy one until he is ordered back to his desk -- in College Station.