U.S. courts still open; feds seek delay in Jeremy Johnson civil case
By brooke adams
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Oct 02 2013 03:16PM
While many federal government operations are shut down as a result of Congress’ failure to pass a funding resolution, the good and the bad will continue to battle in court.
U.S. District Court in Utah has adequate funds to accept filings and hold hearings for about 10 business days. Then, it will reassess.
Several federal court-related agencies, such as the Federal Public Defender, had already implemented furloughs and reduced hours because of sequestration.
A memo outlining the Department of Justice’s contingency plan in the event of a shutdown — which it assumes for planning purposes would last five days — says that many of its agencies are exempted from "antideficiency act" restrictions. Some activities operate on multi-year funds (such as the Bureau of Prisons), use appropriations that don’t have to be renewed or are presidential appointees, such as U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow.
Of DOJ’s 114,486 employees, a vast majority — 96,300 — fall in one of those categories.
According to the DOJ’s contingency plan, priority No. 1 will be maintaining the safety and security of the United States: "The law enforcement capacity of the U.S. Government should not be impaired or perceived to be impaired. To do so could constitute an imminent threat to the safety of human life and the protection of property."
The DOJ says criminal litigation will "continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property." Meanwhile, civil litigation will be curtailed or postponed to the extent that it can be.
On Tuesday, for example, stays were filed in litigation over road designations in counties throughout Utah. And Federal Trade Commission attorneys have asked a federal judge in Nevada to suspend proceedings in their consumer-fraud lawsuit against St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson, saying they were barred from working even voluntarily because of the shutdown.
Johnson opposed the motion, according to the FTC filing. Karra Porter, the Salt Lake City attorney for Johnson’s I Works company and others, also objected to the stay.
"The United States has elected to cease operation, voluntarily relinquishing prosecution of this matter (which it initiated) by depriving its attorneys of funding" and prohibiting them from working voluntarily, Porter said in her opposition to the stay.
Johnson’s criminal case in Salt Lake City’s federal court — where he and four former employees face 86 criminal counts — is proceeding, though nothing is scheduled until January.
Johnson is a central figure in the scandal enveloping Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
Other points of note in the DOJ plan:
• "New employees who are not in positions designated as ‘emergency’ should not start work during the lapse and should not be trained."
• "All FBI agents and support personnel in the field are considered excepted from furlough."
• "All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counter-narcotics investigations."
• Grant programs, such as community-oriented policing services and the Office on Violence Against Women, are "no-year" appropriations and "these activities may continue during a lapse as long as sufficient carryover funds remain." A spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services said Wednesday all its programs that receive federal funding, such as drug-treatment programs, would be unaffected for at least 90 days.
Tom Harvey contributed to this story.