- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - The state has ended a lawsuit alleging a former commissioner of political practices conducted private law work at his state office.

The move came over the objections of a conservative think-tank that initially brought the case more than two years ago on behalf of the state under the False Claims Act.

The office of Attorney General Tim Fox and former commissioner Dave Gallik agreed Tuesday to walk away from the lawsuit, with Gallik dropping his counterclaim for lost wages.

Neither side acknowledged liability and each will pay its own legal bills under the deal approved by Cascade County District Judge Greg Pinski.

The difference between the state’s claims against Gallik and his claims against the state amounted to a few hundred dollars, Assistant Attorney General Mike Black said during a court hearing in Great Falls.

“We are conserving resources for the state and the court where the case is essentially a wash,” Black said.

Gallik said he was pleased by the settlement but it should have happened a long time ago.

The Montana Policy Institute filed the lawsuit in March 2012 under the False Claims Act, which allows a person to pursue legal action on behalf of the state government against anyone who makes false representations to receive payment from the government.

Gallik actually sponsored the act as a legislator in 2005.

The institute sued after The Great Falls Tribune reported that Gallik was improperly working on his private law business while at the state office. Gallik was appointed in May 2011 and resigned in January 2012.

A judge ruled in 2013 that the lawsuit could proceed, and Fox announced soon after that his office would take over the case.

Gallik filed a counterclaim for breach of contract, alleging the state failed to pay him his total salary for the time he worked as commissioner. He said he was a salaried employee and not subject to the time-keeping requirements of an hourly wage worker.

He disputed that he did anything wrong, and he said he made it clear from the beginning of his appointment that he would continue in his law practice.

Black told Pinski the attorney general’s office had found evidence that Gallik had conducted private work out of the office, and that an accounting error resulted in Gallik getting underpaid for sick leave and vacation time.

Attorney Art Wittich, a Republican state senator from Bozeman who represented the institute in the case, said the ruling sent a mixed message to the 11,000 conscientious state employees across the state.

Pinski approved the settlement over the objections of the Montana Policy Institute, which was represented by attorney

“We had whistleblowers who saw improper activity, somebody getting state compensation for not doing any state work,” he said. “They blew the whistle but there won’t be any consequence.”

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