Judges usually wait till the end of a case to make judgement calls, but on December 21, the chief federal judge presiding over the Harvey dam flooding cases had some strong conclusions concerning the government lawyers’ request to delay the case.
Delaying a case is a routine, and important, part of trials. Evidence may take a while to asses, depositions difficult to gather, and so lawyers can request that a judge postpone a case until all the evidence comes in. However, delay requests can also be used for backhanded purposes.
Lawyers frequently use delay requests to stall out cases to gain a more advantageous position. There are a few dubious reasons why a lawyer may try to delay a case:
- A jury’s feelings about a case may change if it is distant from its original occurrence.
- Clients may drop a suit if the proceedings are taking a long time.
- Clients may run out of money if their lawyer charges in advance and the trial is drawn out.
- Lawyers may delay a case so they can charge their client more money.
In the Houston dam scenario, the lawyers requested that the trials be delayed a year so that the U.S. Army Corps can “look for documents.” The chief federal judge decided that these requests would not only be denied, but that they deserved chastisement.
“What has been proposed to the court, frankly, is insulting. It's insulting to the people in this community; it's insulting to the president of the United States; and it is unbefitting to those representing the Attorney General. And it shows no respect for the role of the judiciary. (…) The Court set this conference to come down and listen to reasonable proposals. I do not regard, nor does Judge Lettow regard, the proposal that the Justice Department has provided to be that. (…) What am I to make of this? It’s beyond embarrassing.”
When a government lawyer claimed that the Corps of Engineers was busy trying to clean up after the storms and that that was why they needed a year to get the documents, the judge claimed that she believes that the documents are in two filing drawers which should be easily accessible. This chief federal judge is not interested in having a long drawn out court case. She is interested in swift justice for the victims of Houston who have lost their homes to the action of the federal government.