Kansas City, Mo. Former Westar Energy Inc. executive Douglas Lake, who was convicted in September of helping former CEO David Wittig loot the Topeka-based utility, has asked a judge to force Westar to pay him millions of dollars in legal fees for his defense.
Westar sued Lake and Wittig in October, saying that much of the $12 million in legal expenses they have asked for is not reasonable and that the court should decide whether the company should pay.
The company, which agreed in the men's employment agreements to cover "reasonable" legal expenses related to their work at Westar, has already paid Lake's attorneys $4.7 million of the $8.5 million they have requested and has paid Wittig's attorneys $3.7 million of the $4.36 million they are seeking.
In a filing late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Kansas, Lake said his employment contract doesn't provide a "reasonableness" criterion. He also noted that Westar has paid major legal expenses in the past, including more than $9 million for a New York law firm to investigate Lake's and Wittig's actions at the company before they were pushed out in late 2002.
Lake is countersuing, saying Westar has violated his employment agreement.
Lake also claims Westar is using the legal-fee issue to force him and Wittig to drop their arbitration cases against Westar over $60.4 million in pay and benefits the men say the utility still owes them.
Westar spokeswoman Karla Olsen on Friday declined to comment beyond the company's court filings. She added that the men's legal fees don't come from ratepayers.
Following a two-month trial, a Kansas City, Kan., federal jury found Wittig and Lake guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and circumvention of internal controls. Sentencing is scheduled for April 3.