Skip to comments.Judge urges settlement in 'National Enquirer' anthrax case
Posted on 04/15/2009 11:36:01 AM PDT by Justice Department
WEST PALM BEACH — Maureen Stevens may have to wait until 2011 for justice in the 2001 anthrax attack that killed her husband who worked as a photo editor for the Boca Raton-based publisher of the National Enquirer.
In a hearing this morning, her attorneys and lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice agreed that January 2011 was a good target date for Stevens' lawsuit against the federal government to go to trial. Stevens is seeking $50 million, claiming the government failed to secure the deadly agent, allowing it to be used to kill her husband, Robert, in the wake of the 2001 terrorist strike.
Noting that the case changed dramatically in July when the FBI fingered a delusional, and ultimately suicidal, government scientist for the anthrax attack, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley urged the two sides to work together over the next 45 days to narrow the complex issues. A settlement, he suggested, might be possible.
After the hearing, attorney Robert Schuler, who represents Stevens, said it would be up to the government to decide whether it wants to avoid a public airing of how anthrax was secreted out of an Army research center at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Stevens died after opening a letter that contained anthrax powder. Four others were killed and 17 became ill after receiving similar anthrax-laced letters sent to Capitol Hill, news agencies in New York City and a home in Connecticut.
"The ball's in their court," Schuler said of the possibility of a settlement. "But they seem much more conciliatory today than they have before."
Indeed, before leaving the courtroom, J. Patrick Glynn, director of the torts division for the justice department, told Schuler: "We're not here to arbitrarily put sand bags in front of you."
The case that Stevens filed in 2003 has languished in the courts because of the unprecedented legal issues it raises. Hurley asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to determine whether the government could be held legally responsible if deadly toxins were released from its lab. The appeals court kicked the question to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that it could.
In addition to being stymied by legal questions, until the FBI last summer announced it believed scientist Bruce Ivins had mailed the letters, the government blocked the flow of information, saying it was part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Ivins killed himself shortly after the FBI told him they intended to charge him with murder. Many, including some federal lawmakers, have questioned the largely circumstantial case agents built against Ivins.
And, Glynn said today, the case still isn't closed. "They've identified the person, but it's still an ongoing investigation," he said. "Still, the hurdles aren't as high as they once were."
where did i read the right to a speedy trial??If your the Obamament and the defendant can you ask to have the trial take forever?
I don’t understand. Can she prove the government is the one that furnished the anthrax, or that it came from a government lab? If the US gets nuked, I hardly think you can sue because the US didn’t control nuclear weapons well enough.
The problem the lawyer has is that there are 20,000+ Capitol Hill employees and 3,000+ USPS employees (who were exposed) who can then walk into court and simply ask the judge to provide them with the same "settlement".
So, for the sake of wrapping this up quickly, let's say all she wanted was $500,000. With 25,000 other claimants, more or less, that's over $12 billion.
It is highly unlikely that any US Attorney, even the Attorney General, has the authority to accept/pay a settlement on his own that is that large. This sucker would need to go to Congress.
Thanks for the breakdown. I wonder if they can do it the way they do for state governments - over $250k, the legislature can simply refuse to fund the settlement and that’s the end of that.
In my experience the authority of the Attorney General is fairly limited - I doubt he can make $25 billion.
The right to a speedy trial pertains to criminal cases. Civil cases often get delayed for years. There are so many lawsuit (civil) cases pending in the courts that they simply can't fit Maureen Stevens' case into the schedule until 2011. The solution would be to have more judges, but that's not going to happen anytime soon.
The case will probably be settled before it gets to trial. I think that almost 99% of civil cases are settled and do not actually go to court.
There's no danger that all the thousands of people who were exposed to the spores will sue if Maureen Stevens wins her case. The statute of limitations is probably about 2 years in a situation like this. Remember it's a CIVIL case, not a criminal case. Statutes of limitations are relatively short in CIVIL cases. If you didn't sue in the first two years after the attacks, you are probably out of luck.
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