Can a federal judge order the U.S. Attorney’s Office to intervene in a case? I doubt it. The administrative branch of the government is supposedly co-equal to the judicial, and it seems pretty dubious that a federal judge can tell employees of the Attorney General what cases to prosecute, or which lawsuits to file or intervene in. So the wording of Judge Peter Beer’s motion in the Branch Consultants v. Allstate et al. whistleblower case is interesting:
The Court, on its own motion, respectfully requests the United States Department of Justice enter this case by July 9, 2007, or show cause on July 11, 2007 at 9:30 a.m. why they are not intervening in this civil action.
(Emphasis in original). Here’s a pdf of the judge’s motion.
You may remember this case, which I posted on recently. This lawsuit was recently unsealed by Judge Beer, and it alleges a massive insurer conspiracy to defraud the government through misclassifying wind damage as flood damage, thereby shifting the burden of payments onto the National Flood Insurance Program and off insurers’ own reserves. Here’s a second post I did about an Associated Press story that says the U.S. Attorney’s Office has no plans to get involved in the lawsuit. Here is a pdf of the complaint in the lawsuit, and here is a pdf of Judge Beer’s order unsealing the lawsuit.
Which brings me to this story in the Times-Picayune on this development, the headline of which says Beer "ordered" the Justice Department to explain itself. First, this seems inaccurate: I don’t take Judge Beer’s motion as an order, nor does it say it is an order. But reporters don’t write the headlines, so don’t blame the writer for that. Second, Judge Beer also apparently granted an interview about this subject, judging by this section of the story:
Beer said he was surprised to learn that the U.S. attorney’s office in Baton Rouge only planned to monitor the case, which now is being prosecuted on behalf of the U.S. government by a private attorney in New Orleans representing the whistle-blowers, rather than take it over.
"What about the good old general public? Who better to look after the interests of the public, than the U.S. attorneys," Beer said. "This is a case the government should be involved with. The United States should be right in there, and not just monitoring it, given as far reaching and serious as this case is."
I don’t recall ever before seeing a judge quoted in a story about a case he or she was presiding over, other than in comments from the bench.