A state district court judge ruled Tuesday that CNSI attorneys can delve into what led a key witness to change his testimony.

The ruling allows Client Network Services Inc. lawyers to question a state Attorney General’s Office investigator who met with whistleblower Steve Smith, a former CNSI employee, between the two contradictory depositions. Smith’s testimony differed on specific points from the first time he answered questions under oath to his second deposition.

“All anyone should be concerned about is searching for the truth,” said 19th Judicial District Court Judge Tim Kelley, of Baton Rouge. He said CNSI is “entitled to find out how (Smith’s) recollection was refreshed.”

Smith described improper activity connected to how CNSI got a state contract worth nearly $200 million. The state then canceled the deal, in which CNSI was hired to process its tens of millions of Medicaid claims each year. CNSI is suing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration for wrongful contract termination and seeking damages. Kelley’s decision was in the civil case.

Smith’s testimony involved the timing and circumstances that led him to write an anonymous email to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — alerting them of activities he described as “close” to fraud.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services forwarded the missive along to the Attorney General’s Office, which launched a behind-the-scenes investigation that led to empaneling of a special criminal grand jury. The panel recently indicted former state health chief Bruce Greenstein on nine counts of perjury for allegedly lying about contacts with CNSI — his former employer — before, during and after the contract award and his role in altering the contract specifications.

CNSI lawyer Lewis Unglesby, of Baton Rouge, said Smith’s testimony changed between a May deposition and a follow-up July deposition. He said attorney general’s investigator Scott Bailey called Smith twice after the May proceedings and went to see him a week before the July deposition’s start.

“(Smith) changed very important testimony,” said Unglesby, including that he felt personally threatened by officials of Molina and Xerox — two of the losing claims processing bidders.

Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell argued that Kelley should not allow CNSI to interview Bailey while there’s an ongoing criminal investigation into the CNSI contract award.

“The only reason we are here is to protect the communication we have in a criminal case,” said Caldwell, noting Smith is key to the criminal case as well. The current grand jury expires Nov. 18 but Caldwell said he plans on empaneling a new grand jury to continue the probe.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Caldwell said. “It’s our prerogative to talk to witnesses whenever … We are not trying to rig a civil case.”

Kelley said he did not see how CNSI asking Bailey limited questions about his conversations with Smith would interfere with grand jury secrecy.

Caldwell said he anticipated CNSI attorneys would take every opportunity they could to elicit information related to grand jury proceedings.

“I see it has … the potential for opening Pandora’s box,” Kelley said. He told attorneys to advise him when the Bailey interview would take place and he would be on call by telephone if problems came up in questioning.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.