Task Force will be fined for delays in records release
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal district judge in early December said he intends to levy sanctions against Clinton administration officials because of their “misconduct” in responding to open government actions brought by a physicians’ group.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons has been trying since early 1993 to gain full information on the Health Care Reform Task Force headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton and the working groups which reported to the task force.
In September the government released 250 boxes of records from the task force and asked the court to find the physicians’ case moot. Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the government to provide some additional documents and predicted that when the government complied he would find the case moot.
However, Lamberth told the physicians’ group that he understood their “frustration with the defendants’ misconduct over the course of this litigation” and that he will impose sanctions even if the case becomes moot.
In early 1993 the physicians’ group sued the task force under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires that government advisory groups must meet openly and provide access to their records. The Reporters Committee and several other media organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the appeals panel to order the task force meetings open.
In June 1993, shortly after the task force disbanded, the court of appeals determined that the task force was not an advisory group because it consisted entirely of government employees including Mrs. Clinton whom the court called a “de facto” official. However, the appeals court said the lower court could find that the working groups, which included persons outside the government, subject to the openness laws.
By November 1993, when the requesters still did not have basic task force records showing who was on the task force and what money was spent, Lamberth called the government’s inaction “preposterous,” accusing it of releasing records in “dribbles and drabs.”
In September 1994 after the government and the physicians failed to reach a settlement agreement, the government released the bulk of the records.
(Association of American Physicians and Surgeons v. Hillary Rodham Clinton; AAPS Counsel: Thomas Spencer, Miami, Fla.)