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Profile: US District Court for the District of Columbia
US District Court for the District of Columbia was a participant or observer in the following events:
C. Madison “Brick” Brewer gets the job of supervising a contract with Inslaw for the installation of the PROMIS database and search application (see March 1982). [US Congress, 9/10/1992; Wired News, 3/1993] According to a report by the House Judiciary Committee, Brewer gets the job from William P. Tyson of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA). [US Congress, 9/10/1992] However, according to Wired magazine, Brewer is appointed by EOUSA Director Laurence McWhorter, who had told a previous candidate for the position that he was “out to get Inslaw” (see Spring 1981). [Wired News, 3/1993] Brewer had originally been hired by the EOUSA in January. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] He once worked for Inslaw, but was allowed to resign when its founder William Hamilton found his performance inadequate (see 1976). [Wired News, 3/1993] Brewer will soon demonstrate his hostility to Inslaw, and the company will ask that he be replaced (see April 14, 1982, April 19, 1982, and Mid-April 1982).
Importance of Job - As the project manager, Brewer is involved in all major contract and technical decisions, including forming the department’s position on Inslaw’s claim that it should be paid for privately-funded enhancements it makes to PROMIS. Brewer also reports on progress on the contract to the department’s PROMIS Oversight Committee (see August 13, 1981 or Before).
Comment by Assistant Attorney General - Assistant Attorney General Lowell Jensen will later comment: “I would think that the better path of wisdom is not to do that [i.e. hire an allegedly fired employee to direct the contract of his former employer] if that’s possible to do. I think that it’s better to have these kinds of issues undertaken by people who don’t have questions raised about them one way or the other whether they are biased in favor of or against the people they deal with.” However, this thinking apparently does not impact the department’s decision to hire Brewer.
House Judiciary Committee Investigation - In the light of these circumstances, the House Judiciary Committee will call the appointment a “curious choice,” partly because Brewer tells it: “I was not a computer person. We talked about my role viewed as being liaison, the person who would make things happen, a coordinator. It was not contemplated that I would, by osmosis or otherwise, learn computer science.” After interviewing Justice Department staff, the committee will find that it is “unable to determine how Mr. Brewer came to be considered for the position.” The committee will also point out: “The potential conflict of interest was an unsatisfactory situation irrespective of his admittedly negative feelings about his forced resignation from the company. Had Mr. Brewer taken actions which could have been construed to unduly favor Inslaw throughout the life of the contract, similar questions of potential conflict could just as easily have arisen either from within the department or from outside competitors of the company.”
Findings of Government Accountability Office and Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations - The Government Accountability Office and Congress’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) will find that Brewer’s appointment as project manager creates an appearance of a conflict of interest that should have been avoided by the department. The PSI report will say, “The staff finds that the department exercised poor judgment in ignoring the potential for a conflict of interest in its hiring of the PROMIS project director [Brewer], and then, after receiving allegations of bias on his part, in failing to follow standard procedures to investigate them in a timely manner.”
Courts' Opinions - During the legal proceedings that stem from a dispute between Inslaw and the department, two courts will comment on the issue. George Bason, of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, will say, “On the basis of the evidence taken as a whole, this court is convinced beyond any doubt that Brewer was consumed by hatred for and an intense desire for revenge against Mr. Hamilton and Inslaw, and acted throughout this matter in a thoroughly biased and unfairly prejudicial manner toward Inslaw.” William Bryant, of the District Court for the District of Columbia, will add, “The nature and circumstances of his separation from that employment are somewhat in dispute, but it is clear that Brewer was not happy in his job when he left it after being urged to do so by Hamilton.”
Brewer's Motivation - Inslaw attorney Harvey Sherzer will comment in court on one of the motivations apparently driving Brewer: “[H]e seemed to think there was something wrong with a contractor benefiting from a government contract.… The gist of what he seemed to be saying was that by performing this contract Inslaw and Mr. Hamilton, specifically, was making an effort to expand the company. And there seemed to be a negative inference toward Inslaw’s ability to use the base created by this contract to expand.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Office of Professional Responsibility Conclusion - On the contrary, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility will examine the matter and rule there is no conflict of interest. Brewer will later tell a federal court that everything he does regarding Inslaw is approved by Jensen. Jensen had previously supervised a product known as DALITE, which lost a major contract to Inslaw in the 1970s. [Wired News, 3/1993]
Entity Tags: Lowell Jensen, William Bryant, Office of Professional Responsibility, Laurence McWhorter, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, US District Court for the District of Columbia, House Judiciary Committee, Harvey Sherzer, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, C. Madison “Brick” Brewer, Inslaw, Inc., Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), George Bason, Government Accountability Office, Frank Mallgrave, William P. Tyson
Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS
The Justice Department again tries to get Judge George Bason removed from the Inslaw case over the company’s bankruptcy and the department’s alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS software. Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department has been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). Following the failure of a recusal motion to Bason (see January 19, 1988), the department argues a motion before Chief Judge of the District Court for Columbia Aubrey Robinson for a writ of mandamus directing Judge Bason to recuse himself over allegations of bias. Robinson denies the department’s writ, ruling: “I can’t see anything in this record that measures up to the standards that would be applicable to force another judge to take over this case. There isn’t any doubt in my mind, for example, that the declaration filed by the Justice Department in support of the original motion is inadequate.” When the department appeals Bason’s ruling (see Between February 2, 1988 and November 22, 1989), it will again raise the issue of recusal, but District Court Judge William Bryant will say, “This court like the courts before it can find no basis in fact to support a motion for recusal.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The US District Court for the District of Columbia upholds a bankruptcy court ruling in favor of Inslaw. The ruling concerned the dispute over the PROMIS software between Inslaw and the Justice Department, which was found to have violated bankruptcy protection provisions (see September 28, 1987 and February 2, 1988), but had appealed (see Between February 2, 1988 and November 22, 1989). Judge William Bryant finds that the department knew an enhanced version of PROMIS was Inslaw’s central asset, that ownership of the software was critical to the company’s reorganization in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and that the department’s unilateral claim of ownership and its installation of the enhanced version in offices around the United States violated automatic stay bankruptcy provisions in multiple ways. In addition, Bryant agrees with the bankruptcy court’s conclusion that the department never had any rights to the enhanced version and that “the government acted willfully and fraudulently to obtain property that it was not entitled to under the contract.” In addition, when Inslaw suggested mechanisms to determine whether the private enhancements had been made, the government rejected them, and “when asked to provide an alternative methodology that would be acceptable, the government declined.” The department could have used established procedures to get relief from the automatic stay provisions, but simply chose not to do so. Bryant, who also finds that the department tried to convert Inslaw’s bankruptcy to Chapter 7 liquidation, adds, “What is strikingly apparent from the testimony and depositions of key witnesses and many documents is that Inslaw performed its contract in a hostile environment that extended from the higher echelons of the Justice Department to the officials who had the day-to-day responsibility for supervising its work.” Finally, Bryant finds that, as the case was grounded in bankruptcy law, the bankruptcy court was an appropriate forum to hear the dispute and it did not have to be submitted to the Department of Transportation Board of Contract Appeals, an arena for contract disputes. Although most of the damages awarded are upheld, as Bryant finds the bankruptcy court assessed damages based on the evidence it obtained, he reduces compensatory damages by $655,200.88. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
MBA president Robert Cox. [Source: Washington Post]The US District Court for the District of Columbia awards two seats for bloggers among the journalists who will cover the Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007). It is the first time bloggers have been granted this level of access to such a high-profile government court case. The two seats are among the 100 set aside for the media in the courtroom; well over 100 media personnel are expected to descend on the court before the trial starts; the court has set up an “overflow room” for the reporters, cameramen, and other personnel who are not able to get into the courtroom proper. The Media Bloggers Association (MBA) won the right to allow two of its members into the court, and the two seats will rotate among selected members. MBA president Robert Cox says the trial, and the involvement of bloggers covering it, could “catalyze” the association’s efforts to win respect and access for bloggers in federal and state courthouses. Thomas Kunkel of the University of Maryland School of Journalism says: “The Internet today is like the American West in the 1880s. It’s wild, it’s crazy, and everybody’s got a gun. There are no rules yet.” Cox hopes that the bloggers’ participation in the trial coverage may act to codify and legitimize bloggers’ news coverage. Sheldon Snook, an administrative assistant to Judge Thomas Hogan (see August 9, 2004 and October 7, 2004), says, “Bloggers can bring a depth of reporting that some traditional media organizations aren’t able to achieve because of space and time limitations.” Snook also notes that some bloggers bring a welcome expertise in legal or government matters to their reporting. Cox says the bloggers who the MBA will allow into the courtroom will be diverse in nature, with differing political outlooks and from different parts of the nation. “The history of where blogging is going to go is not defined. It could go in a very positive direction or it could go in a very negative direction,” Cox says. “We have to do more than just sit on our hands and see what happens.” [Washington Post, 1/11/2007] The liberal political blog FireDogLake (FDL) is also sending a team of bloggers to cover the trial, separately from MBA. Author Marcy Wheeler, who has covered the Libby investigation for FDL and an affiliated blog, The Next Hurrah, will be part of the FDL team, as will former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith. The FDL bloggers intend to sublet an apartment in Washington, where they will live and work as roommates during the legal proceedings. One FDL member will cover the trial from inside the courtroom, while others will work in the overflow room or via the Internet from the apartment. [Christy Hardin Smith, 1/3/2007; Jeralyn Merritt, 1/11/2007]
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