Tales From Another Shutdown

In Fall 1995 I was a brand-new federal prosecutor, handling the simplest cases available at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles — no-weapon bank robberies, relatively minor drug mules, and aliens returning after deportation.

Congress and the President clashed, and when the shutdown hit in November, federal agencies suspended "non-essential" activities, a classification that was not entirely rational. Oddly, rookie federal prosecutors were deemed "essential," though only in the sense of being required to come to work, not in the sense of enjoying any guarantee of being paid for our work. The agencies we worked with – particularly the INS, as it was called then — were much harder hit. Many of the agents we were supposed to rely upon as witnesses or as case agents (that is, the lead agent in a matter who would coordinate government and civilian witnesses coming to trial) were furloughed.

I had a trial — a 1326, if memory serves — scheduled in December, with a status conference in November. The public defender representing the defendant wanted a continuance, and — since my government witnesses and case agent were furloughed — so did I. I arrived at the hearing unconcerned. How could the judge not see that it was impossible for the lawyer for the government to put a case together with government witnesses furloughed, and how could a judge fail to grant a continuance when the defense wanted one as well?

The late judge Edward Rafeedie barked at me for several minutes, telling me that (1) I was "making up" the government shutdown and furlough, (2) my explanation of why I could not muster a case with the requisite government agents was "double-talk," and (3) I only wanted a continuance because I was just "lazy." No continuance.

Hence the government shutdown of 1995 taught me valuable lessons about how I should regard all three branches of government.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. Craig says

    In other words, the judiciary can be just as arbitrary, irrational, and idiotic as the legislature and the executive. Yup.

  2. Mitch says

    So, what happened? Did the defendant get away with illegal reentry after prior deportation (which would have led to his immediate deportation instead of a jail sentence before his deportation)?

  3. Dan Weber says

    Wouldn't a defense attorney, upon hearing that the prosecution witnesses were unavailable now, want the trial right now?

    I don't know the fine details of court procedure. Did the lack of continuance mean that you had to present your witnesses that day, or that you had to present them a week from that day?

  4. says

    "As you can plainly see, we are all here in a FEDERAL courthouse. I am appalled that you would try THE BIG LIE here in my courtroom. I have many degrees and drive a Dodge Stratus."

  5. Anonymous Coward says

    Was he actually ignorant of the shutdown, or did he just feel like beating up on someone that day?

  6. Xenocles says

    I understand that police could be on the clock while they're testifying, that makes some sense. But do they have to be? I would think that a court could compel any witness in a criminal matter to appear regardless of whether someone will pay for their time.

    Not doubting your account; I just don't understand.

  7. says

    I can only imagine your facial expression after being accused of fabricating a federal shutdown to get a continuance. How do you hold back such strong snark impulse in front of a federal judge?

  8. says

    Was he actually ignorant of the shutdown, or did he just feel like beating up on someone that day?

    Among the lessons I started to learn in 1995 is that a judge's statements are not intended to be understood literally or evaluated with the crass and unflattering light of facts or so-called "reality." It's more like poetry. Would you tell Keats that the urn upon which he rhapsodized may have predated timbrels as instruments in the Hellenic region?

  9. nm says

    "a judge's statements are not intended to be understood literally or evaluated with the crass and unflattering light of facts or so-called "reality."

    I want this on a t-shirt.

  10. rmd says

    Among the lessons I started to learn in 1995 is that a judge's statements are not intended to be understood literally […]

    Actually, that explains a lot.

  11. Merl says

    So I can get out of testifying in court by by not getting paid to be there? Somehow I think if one of "us" tried that there would be consequences.

  12. says

    if you'd had an iPad, you could have whipped it out and shown him CNN's 975pt font headline: "NO NO NO NO"

    and then he would have denied a continuance (while probably holding you in contempt for making him look bad).

  13. Reformed Republican says

    Was he actually ignorant of the shutdown, or did he just feel like beating up on someone that day?

    He was pissed that he had to come to work while the other federal employees were on vacation.

  14. cdru says

    @Merl – I saw an article that some workers were ordered not to use their government issued Blackberrys because if they did, even if they "volunteered" their time, they could be considered working and thus violation of the law during the furlough.

    Being required to testified in an official capacity during a furlough probably would put a person between a rock and a hard space. Do you testify, and therefor work, in violation of the furlough, or do you not show up in violation of the courts? Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

  15. Steven H. says

    @Anonymous Coward:

    "Was he actually ignorant of the shutdown, or did he just feel like beating up on someone that day?"

    Sounds like he didn't get laid the night before….

  16. Xenocles says

    @cdru-

    I just don't see a conflict. You are being called to testify about your knowledge of the events in question. Even if you came by that knowledge in your official capacity, nothing about relating that knowledge requires your official capacity. All you have to do is talk about what you witnessed, just like everyone else.

  17. Pete says

    Silliness abounds. I was furloughed today as part of the current shutdown. So was my wife. The irony of the situation is that even though we are U.S. federal employees, our fully burdened costs are 100% funded by foreign governments (I'm the Program Manager for a European country's fleet of fighter aircraft) and so a new appropriation bill isn't necessary to pay us. Furthermore, our jobs are to bring foreign capital into the DoD for joint-investments, thereby reducing the costs of U.S. procurements. But, whatever. We'll stay home and read Popehat.

  18. Cat G says

    My condolences, Pete. I'm apparently essential, like Ken was – so I'm still working.

    I hope I get paid. But then, if the people up at the big house could get along and talk, well, I wouldn't have to hope.

  19. Steven H. says

    @Pete:

    Alas, the "rules", such as they are, for Federal shutdowns seem to center not on reducing "unnecessary" costs, but on maximizing the annoyance value of the shutdown.

    Your job is gone, temporarily, not because it will save someone money somewhere, but because it'll produce letter/phone calls/bribes/whatever to Congresscritters to convince them to change their minds.

    Ditto shutting down National Parks – savings are trivial to nonn-existent, but the general public will notice that a lot more than they would the furloughing of every fifth janitor in Federal Service….

  20. apauld says

    "Among the lessons I started to learn in 1995 is that a judge's statements are not intended to be understood literally or evaluated with the crass and unflattering light of facts or so-called "reality." It's more like poetry."
    It sounds more like senility than poetry. I often wonder when voting yes or no to retain judges if are ever checked on for mental health issues; and I imagine that voting yes will keep judges like John Forsythe and Jack Warden's characters in "And Justice For All" employed longer. So I always vote no.

  21. gramps says

    Shutting down the national parks is a strange response. Sure they can tell the rangers and such to stay home, but aren't they considered law enforcement and thus "essential". The CA state parks, many of them anyway, operate without any staff on site. They have a drop-box at the entrance and envelopes into which you place the cash fee that is on the sign in the window of the toll booth. The "honor system".

    I heard rumor that some vets "re-opened" the WW2 monument which had been barricaded. It sounds very consistent with the exploits of their youth. Well done. [if not true, it damn well should be.]

  22. MattinLA says

    I had two civil cases before Rafeedie. He always did right by me. But I agree with your general point. Irrational and/or senile judges are a major problem.

  23. Anony Mouse says

    Similar logic to ending White House tours because of the sequester. It's theater, and it's designed to annoying the most people possible.

    If you had to cut the budget and didn't want to, and the items to cut were A) the agency responsible for building statues to Jim Varney and B) the water purification system, you shut down the water purification system because nobody would complain about the statue detail being laid off.

  24. [REDACTED] says

    I'm very much essential, apparently, considering they passed a last minute bill just to give us military people potentially part of our pay, but that's not much consolation when they make us do twice the work without our usual contractors for the networks.

    Granted, I'd have gotten paid by my credit union anyway, but it may or may not be the thought/politics that count(s).

  25. says

    @Hayden Assuming the NSA is furloughed, the great burden of monitoring all communications falls to us. I suggest, to fairly distribute the work, that each communication be examined only by its recipients.

  26. Xenocles says

    @Redacted-

    From all the news articles I'm reading that are that specific, the last-minute appropriation applies to all pay and allowances. So you should be fine from a cash-flow perspective.

  27. Xenocles says

    *Update-

    Might just be base pay and the major allowances; you probably won't get bonuses or special pays (hazard, sea, submarine, medical officer incentive, etc)

  28. Devil's Advocate says

    Similar logic to ending White House tours because of the sequester. It's theater, and it's designed to annoying the most people possible.

    Maybe so, but if one cent gets spent on one of those tours, it's against the law, and it's nice to be seeing the government obeying the law.

  29. NeoBob says

    Well, that's what you get for fabricating something as absurd as a government shutdown and furlough. Really now!

  30. Palimpsest says

    The veterans were WWII veterans on a long planned trip to lay a wreath at the Veteran's memorial. Several of them were in wheelchairs and the mall rangers offered to help them as needed up the stairs as did one congressman who had found something useful to do. As one officer said "I'm a veteran, too".

  31. Palimpsest says

    The veterans were WWII veterans on a long planned trip to lay a wreath at the Veteran's memorial. Several of them were in wheelchairs and the mall rangers offered to help them as needed up the stairs as did one congressman who had found something useful to do. As one officer said "I'm a veteran, too".

  32. says

    @Xenocles-

    There's talk that bonus/special pay might include our Cost of Living Adjustment. Love to get some more concrete info on that, but too tired to verb right now.

    But anyway, the credit union will pay its customers their full paycheck according to the direct deposit, so it's more along the lines of how big a cost the CU eats when the government deigns to reimburse them. Still not sure how many will do even that much, as USAA didn't last time, but some like Navy Fed or Armed Forces did.