- This month’s newsletter is about the importance of the Rule of Law in times of crisis.
You’ve had a legal career that’s touched both private sector litigation and government service in the US Department of Justice, Special Master, and now Chief Special Master. You have experienced the Rule of Law from multiple perspectives. How has that informed your view of ability of the Rule of Law to be a force of stability during a national crisis?
Answer: As the pandemic continues, it is important that citizens see their government functioning as before. The federal courts serve a vital role in providing such reassurances – not only by remaining “open” to a large extent, but by continuing to perform their duties at a professional level. My private sector experience helps me understand how important it is for individuals to not lose access to judicial processes (since the need to adjudicate disputes does not abate); my government experience has taught me the significance of ensuring that the courts (including the Office of Special Masters) keep providing the same level of neutral adjudicative services they would under normal conditions.
- Did your view of the role of Rule of Law evolve as you transitioned from private sector to public sector? If so, how?
Answer: Yes. As a private practice attorney, I worried mostly about zealous (but ethical!) service to my clients – “winning” the case for them. After I started at the Justice Department, however, I began to understand better how competent legal work on behalf of one party to a dispute is only one facet of the overall adjudicative process. Government lawyers also like to win cases, but they have to keep in mind policy considerations that are not as self-evident in the private sector. This gave me a far better appreciation of the overall “rule of law,” and the specific role tribunals play in maintaining stakeholder faith in that concept.
- You’ve performed pro bono representation in civil rights cases and employment discrimination actions, and at the DOJ you obtained injunctions against fraudulent tax preparers and promoters of illegal tax schemes. Do you see the Rule of Law as a tool to level the playing field for marginalized and at-risk members of society and how important is it in times of national crisis, such as the COVD-19 pandemic?
Answer: Definitely. The Vaccine Program exists to do just that for individuals who believe they have been injured by a vaccination – and in fact, is intended to provide a more expedited process to do so. The Court of Federal Claims itself takes great pride in its role as the “People’s Court,” existing so that U.S. citizens have a specific means of judicial redress against their own government. OSM also takes special care to address the concerns of pro se litigants. In all of these regards, we are hopefully demonstrating through the judicial process that, win or lose, citizens will be heard by their government – a message with special resonance in difficult times like these.
- What role does the Bar play in promoting and protecting the Rule of Law in times of crisis?
Answer: By continuing to litigate claims and perform legal tasks for petitioners, even under the duress of working from home or dealing with deadline extensions forced upon us all by circumstance, the Vaccine Court Bar is extremely important in helping OSM process claims and resolve cases, which in turn increases people’s confidence in the rule of law.
- What is the role of special masters in promoting and protecting the Rule of Law in times of crisis?
Answer: We have to keep doing our jobs as well as we can – decide cases fairly and correctly from a legal standpoint, promptly issue compensation and fees awards, and remain responsive to the needs of petitioners generally. Although we have been mostly teleworking throughout the crisis, the “Vaccine Court” remains open as before, and we hope to find creative ways to continue to perform hearings going forward, even if more parties/witnesses have to be heard by videoconference.
Rapid Fire Round!
- Mac or PC?
Answer: The Court is a PC world, with a few permitted Apple peripherals – phones and pads. But I’d take Apple exclusively if I could.
- Top-three songs on your Spotify/I-tunes playlist?
Answer: These days I am listening to a lot to Robert Earl Keen, Miles Davis, and classic Brazilian Bossa Nova.
- The Big Green or The Lawn?
Answer: I’m very fond of both of my institutions of higher learning – but I will admit that Dartmouth’s combination of frigid New Hampshire winters and dark, smelly fraternity basements had a pathologic effect on me that I have never escaped.
- Chili: Beans or no beans?
No beans ever.
- Stay-at-Home Binge: books or television?
Answer: I try to read one work of fiction a month, but looking at words all day at work makes it hard to eyeball even more in my off hours. TV is easier on the mind as a general matter.
The Bar Association provides its members numerous educational opportunities and opportunities for practitioners to meet and interact with the judges of the Court and colleagues from both public and private practice for these purposes. Our members work closely with the Court’s judges to develop programs, contribute to revisions of the Court’s Rules, and organize a broad range of educational and other activities.
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