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Department of Justice Hard Hit by Government Shutdown
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder sent an email to DOJ employees stating, “I am mindful of how difficult this shutdown is on you, the Department’s hard-working employees.” Describing the government shutdown as “unnecessary and harmful,” Holder promised to keep DOJ employees “informed over the coming days.”
Further information has not yet been passed on by Holder to DOJ employees, but reports indicate that more than 1,000 lawyers of the DOJ have been furloughed.
The agency is in the process of putting huge numbers of civil cases on hold due to the shutdown and Justice Department lawyers have been asking federal trial judges to stay civil litigation.
Admitting that the Department does not know when funding would be restored by the Congress, DOJ lawyers urged for stays even in high profile cases because without funding they are prohibited even from working on a voluntary basis. The only exemption seems to be emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.
However, DOJ lawyers are not finding much sympathy with the trial judges even in as high profile cases as the U.S. Airways – American Airlines antitrust case.
In the American Airlines case the DOJ petition for stay observed, referring to the shutdown “This is creating difficulties for the Department to perform the functions necessary to support its litigation efforts and, accordingly, the Department’s policy is to seek a stay in all pending civil litigation.”
However, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kottelly was not swayed and on Tuesday afternoon she denied the request for stay observing, “because the need for the prompt resolution of this matter, the Court has set an expedited discovery and trial schedule … A stay at this point would undermine this schedule and delay the necessary speedy disposition of this matter. It is essential that the Department of Justice attorneys continue to litigate this case…”
Separately, the U.S. Judicial Conference posted on its website that federal courts will remain open and continue to function as usual, but “on or around Oct 15, 2013, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance.”