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Context of 'After July 7, 1987: Justice Department Report Says Inslaw Judge Cannot Be Removed over Alleged Bias'

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Richard Willard, assistant attorney general of the civil division, writes a memo to Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns about the Inslaw affair. According to Willard, George Bason, the bankruptcy court judge dealing with the Justice Department’s alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software, should be taken off the case. Willard writes that Bason’s conduct is “so extraordinary that it warranted reassignment to another judge.” The House Judiciary Committee will comment that department officials are “concerned” about Bason’s handling of the case “very early in the litigation,” and that they think Bason tends to believe statements made by Inslaw. The committee will add: “The department believed that Judge Bason disregarded the sworn statements of department witnesses. The department also believed that Judge Bason made lengthy observations regarding the credibility of its witnesses and that Judge Bason’s uniformly negative conclusions were based on inferences not supported by the record.” Therefore, by the summer of 1987, the department is “actively seeking ways to remove Judge Bason from the case.” Bason will rule in favor of Inslaw in the autumn (see September 28, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Richard Willard, George Bason, Civil Division, Arnold Burns, House Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Justice Department staff tell Attorney General Edwin Meese that Judge George Bason of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia is “off his rocker,” according to a sworn statement Meese will later make to the House Judiciary Committee. Bason is presiding over a dispute between the department and the software company Inslaw (see June 9, 1986) and will eventually rule against the department (see September 28, 1987). This comment appears to be part of a campaign to get Bason removed from the case (see June 19, 1987) and a judge more favorable to the department appointed. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Edwin Meese, US Department of Justice, George Bason

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns asks his subordinates at the Justice Department’s civil division to “consider initiatives for achieving a more favorable disposition of this matter [a legal dispute between the department and Inslaw over PROMIS software].” This is apparently a reference to the possible removal of Judge George Bason from the case, as the department thinks he is biased against it (see June 19, 1987). In response to the comments, the department will draft a report about removing Bason (see After July 7, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Civil Division, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, George Bason, Arnold Burns, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Following a request from the Justice Department’s leadership (see July 7, 1987), Michael Hertz, the director of the civil division’s commercial litigation branch at the department, writes a memo entitled “Feasibility of Motion to Disqualify the Judge in Inslaw.” The department has come to believe that the judge, George Bason, is biased against it (see June 19, 1987) and hopes to challenge his findings of fact by saying they are unsupported by evidence and reflect a desire to reach a preordained conclusion. This position is mostly based on the department’s observations that some of Bason’s findings of fact are “rambling and based on deductions that are both strained and have flimsy support.” However, Hertz writes to Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart Schiffer that the facts simply do not support a case of bias strong enough to disqualify Bason from the remainder of the Inslaw case. Hertz adds that he is “fairly confident” that any motion to dismiss Bason would not succeed and the denial of any such motion could not be successfully challenged on appeal. He gives the following reasons:
bullet The department has no evidence that what it views as “Bason’s incredible factual conclusions or alleged bias” actually stem from an extrajudicial source, as the case law requires;
bullet Adverse factual findings and inferences against the government are not enough to support a claim of bias; and
bullet Adverse credibility rulings about some of the government’s witnesses in a prior phase of the proceedings are not on their own sufficient to disqualify Bason from the rest of the proceedings.
Hertz says that attempting to demonstrate bias by Bason could adversely affect any future appeal by the department on the findings of fact. He also advises Schiffer that as much as the department may disagree with Bason’s findings: “[T]hey are not mere conclusory statements. Instead they reflect a relatively detailed judicial analysis of the evidence, including reasons for believing certain witnesses and disbelieving others, as well as consideration of what inferences might or might not be drawn from the evidence.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992] Despite this, the department will twice attempt to get Bason recused, failing both times (see January 19, 1988 and January 25, 1988).

Entity Tags: Michael Hertz, Civil Division, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, Stuart Schiffer, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Assistant Attorney General Richard Willard reports to Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns about the Inslaw case. Willard says that the Justice Department has developed a good trial record, but: “[T]here is virtually no reason for optimism about the judge’s ruling. Even though our witnesses performed admirably and we believe we clearly have the better case, Judge Bason made it apparent in a number of ways that he is not favorably disposed to our position.” The department has been trying to have Bason removed from the case for some time (see June 19, 1987) and he will soon rule in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: George Bason, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, Richard Willard, Arnold Burns, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Judge George Bason of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia issues an oral finding that the Justice Department “took, converted, and stole” the enhanced version of Inslaw’s PROMIS software by “trickery, fraud, and deceit.” The ruling is issued at the end of a trial that lasts over two weeks and involves sworn statements from over 40 witnesses and thousands of pages of documentary evidence. Bason finds that a key departmental official, project manager C. Madison Brewer, was biased against Inslaw (see April 1982, April 14, 1982, and April 19, 1982). In addition, Brewer’s boss Lowell Jensen (see December 29, 1983 and February 1984) is said to have “a previously developed negative attitude about PROMIS and Inslaw,” because he had been associated with the development of a rival case management system while he was a district attorney in California, and this affected his judgment throughout his oversight of the contract. Further, the department violated bankruptcy protection legislation that applied to Inslaw by using and exercising control over Inslaw’s property—the enhanced PROMIS software—without negotiating a license fee. This oral finding is confirmed in a written opinion issued on January 25, 1988. In the written finding, Bason adds, “[T]his court finds and concludes that the department never intended to meet its commitment and that once the department had received enhanced PROMIS pursuant to Modification 12 (see April 11, 1983), the department thereafter refused to bargain in good faith with Inslaw and instead engaged in an outrageous, deceitful, fraudulent game of ‘cat and mouse,’ demonstrating contempt for both the law and any principle of fair dealing.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Lowell Jensen, George Bason, C. Madison “Brick” Brewer, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, Inslaw, Inc.

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Stuart Schiffer, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, writes to Richard Willard, the assistant attorney general for the civil division, about the Inslaw case. Schiffer writes: “[Judge George] Bason has scheduled the next [Inslaw] trial for February 2 [1988]. Coincidentally, it has been my understanding that February 1 [1988] is the date on which he [Bason] will either be reappointed or replaced.” Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department had been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). After Bason’s bid for reappointment fails (see December 15, 1987), he will say that the department used its influence against him (see December 5, 1990). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: George Bason, Civil Division, Richard Willard, Stuart Schiffer, US Department of Justice, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

An official written report is drafted for the panel considering the appointment of a judge to the Bankruptcy Court to the District of Columbia. The two-page report briefly assesses the final four candidates, including the incumbent George Bason, who is, however, at loggerheads with the Justice Department over his handling of the Inslaw case (see June 19, 1987 and September 28, 1987). However, another—longer but unofficial—report will be drafted two weeks later and will be critical of Bason (see December 8, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, George Bason

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

The Justice Department files a motion that bankruptcy court judge George Bason recuse himself from further participation in a case over the bankruptcy of Inslaw and the department’s alleged theft of the enhanced PROMIS application, saying that he is biased against the department. Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department has been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). The motion is filed despite a report from Michael Hertz, the director of the civil division’s commercial litigation branch at the department, saying that such a move would not succeed (see After July 7, 1987). The bankruptcy court denies the motion three days later. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] The department will make a similar request later in the month (see January 25, 1988).

Entity Tags: Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, George Bason, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

The Justice Department again tries to get Judge George Bason removed from the Inslaw case over the company’s bankruptcy and the department’s alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS software. Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department has been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). Following the failure of a recusal motion to Bason (see January 19, 1988), the department argues a motion before Chief Judge of the District Court for Columbia Aubrey Robinson for a writ of mandamus directing Judge Bason to recuse himself over allegations of bias. Robinson denies the department’s writ, ruling: “I can’t see anything in this record that measures up to the standards that would be applicable to force another judge to take over this case. There isn’t any doubt in my mind, for example, that the declaration filed by the Justice Department in support of the original motion is inadequate.” When the department appeals Bason’s ruling (see Between February 2, 1988 and November 22, 1989), it will again raise the issue of recusal, but District Court Judge William Bryant will say, “This court like the courts before it can find no basis in fact to support a motion for recusal.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: George Bason, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, US Department of Justice, US District Court for the District of Columbia, William Bryant, Aubrey Robinson

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

The software company Inslaw submits allegations about the Justice Department’s conduct in the dispute over the enhanced PROMIS application to the Public Integrity Section (PIS), a departmental oversight component. The allegations follow on from the findings of a bankruptcy court favourable to Inslaw (see September 28, 1987 and January 25, 1988). In the complaint, Inslaw charges the department with:
bullet Procurement fraud. Inslaw claims that Attorney General Edwin Meese and former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen schemed to ensure that enhancements made to the PROMIS software by Inslaw would be obtained for free by the department, which would then make them available to a businessman named Earl Brian;
bullet Violation of automatic stay debtor protection provisions invoked by the bankruptcy court. Inslaw says that by using the enhancements it made to the software after the bankruptcy case was filed, the department violated federal bankruptcy law. The bankruptcy court found that the department committed such violation, an act that could constitute an obstruction of the bankruptcy proceedings; and
bullet Attempts to change Inslaw’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, for the company’s reorganization, into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, for the company’s liquidation. Inslaw says that the department unsuccessfully attempted to have an official named Harry Jones detailed from the US Trustee’s office in New York to Washington to take over the Inslaw bankruptcy to get Inslaw liquidated. Inslaw also says unsuccessful pressure was exerted by departmental official Thomas Stanton on US Trustee William White to convert the bankruptcy case into a Chapter 7 liquidation.
The PIS says it will examine some of the allegations, but in the end it will not open a formal preliminary investigation (see February 29, 1988). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: William White, Inslaw, Inc., Harry Jones, Edwin Meese, Lowell Jensen, US Department of Justice, Public Integrity Section, Thomas Stanton

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

The Justice Department appeals an adverse ruling by the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia in its dispute with Inslaw (see September 28, 1987). The main grounds of the appeal include the following claims:
bullet The bankruptcy court judge appeared to be biased and should have recused himself. In addition, he used the bankruptcy proceedings to find culpability by the government;
bullet Inslaw did not prove that automatic stay protection provisions had been violated;
bullet The bankruptcy court lacked jurisdiction over Inslaw’s claim because the department had not waived its immunity from monetary judgements against the United States;
bullet The dispute is really a contract dispute, not a bankruptcy argument, and should therefore have been heard by the Department of Transportation Board of Contract Appeals;
bullet The court exceeded its authority in the field of damages, and no attorney fees should have been awarded.
The appeal court will find for Inslaw (see November 22, 1989), although its ruling will later be overturned (see May 7, 1991). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: US District Court for the District of Columbia, Inslaw, Inc., US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

The House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law holds a hearing about the failure of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to provide full access to all documents and records about the Inslaw case. At the hearing, Inslaw owner William Hamilton and its attorney Elliot Richardson air their complaints about an alleged criminal conspiracy in the Justice Department’s handling of a contract with Inslaw and its alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS application. Steven Ross, the general counsel to the clerk of the US House of Representatives, refutes the Justice Department’s rationale for withholding documents related to possible wrongdoing by its officials involved with the Inslaw contract. In addition, Government Accountability Office representatives describe deficiencies in the Justice Department’s Information Resources Management Office and its administration of data processing contracts.
Bason's Allegations - Judge George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who had found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute with the department (see September 28, 1987), testifies that he believes his failure to be reappointed as bankruptcy judge was the result of improper influence on the court selection process by the department because of his findings. Bason cites information provided to him by a reporter (see May 1988) and negative statements about him by departmental employees (see June 19, 1987 and June 1987 or Shortly After). After investigating these allegations, the committee will find: “The committee could not substantiate Judge Bason’s allegations. If the Department of Justice had influence over the process, it was subtle, to say the least.” Bason will point out that Norma Johnson, the judge who chaired the meeting at which he was not reappointed (see December 15, 1987), had previously worked with departmental official Stuart Schiffer, who was involved in the Inslaw case. However, the committee will comment that it has “no information that Judge Johnson talked to Mr. Schiffer about Inslaw, Judge Bason, or the bankruptcy judge selection process.”
Thornburgh's Reaction - Following this hearing, Thornburgh agrees to cooperate with the subcommittee, but then fails to provide it with several documents it wants. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Steven Ross, William Hamilton, Richard Thornburgh, Government Accountability Office, Elliot Richardson, George Bason, House Subcommittee on Economic and Commercial Law

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

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