Bench Notes: Judge Bitch-Slaps Feds in Shirley Sherrod-Andrew Breitbart LawsuitPosted: February 21, 2014
POLITICO‘s Josh Gerstein reports: A federal judge delivered a severe tongue-lashing to a Justice Department lawyer Thursday, slamming the Obama Administration for its handling of demands for government records in the libel lawsuit fired Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod filed against conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.
During a 40-minute hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon repeatedly ripped into the government and DOJ trial counsel David Glass for resisting requests from both sides in the case for government files and e-mails that might be of use in the litigation. At one point, the judge snapped at Glass, ordering him to “sit right down.”
Sherrod was forced to resign as a state rural development director for USDA in 2010 after Breitbart posted video clips online from a speech she gave earlier in the year at an NAACP event. The videos appeared to suggest that Sherrod was a racist. Within a matter of hours, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack dismissed her, acting in consultation with the White House.
When fuller context for Sherrod’s remarks emerged, the administration offered to return her to her job, which she declined. In 2011, she sued Breitbart and his employee Larry O’Connor for defamation. Breitbart died unexpectedly in 2012, but his wife was substituted as a defendant in the suit.
At the outset of Thursday’s hearing, Leon lit into Glass for filing a 21-page statement outlining the government’s position—a filing submitted electronically just after midnight Thursday along with a stack of nine exhibits. The judge called it “a self-serving pleading, not requested by anyone” and repeatedly suggested it was filed for “public relations” reasons rather than because it might be useful to the court.
The case has drawn attention because of the subject matter and, more recently, because of indications that the Obama White House might assert executive privilege to block some of the parties’ demands for information.
Glass said it was his idea to file with the court the legal document, which—citing a Supreme Court decision protecting records Vice President Dick Cheney‘s Energy Task Force—said the president shouldn’t be forced now to make a decision on privilege.. “I assure you that public relations had absolutely nothing to do with it,” he said of the filing (posted here).
When the lawyer apologized for any offense, the judge shot back: “It’s not a question of being offended….I’m questioning your judgment….It appears you’re doing it for other reasons.”
“We are very frustrated by this discovery,” Glass said, complaining about subpoenas from both Sherrod and a defendant in the case, Breitbart employee Larry O’Connor. “We are fully prepared to move to quash all this discovery if it is not cut back substantially…..It makes absolutely no different why [she] was appointed to her job or what skeletons she may have in her closet.”
“The documents sought from us are completely irrelevant to this matter,” the DOJ lawyer said, expressing additional frustration that there were now signs the parties might seek deposition of figures like Vilsack. “The government has done nothing [connected] to this case, with the sole exception of offering Ms. Sherrod her job back,” Glass said…
- BENCHSLAP: Judge rips feds in Sherrod-Breitbart lawsuit. “A federal judge delivered a severe tongu… (pjmedia.com)
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