Profile: Civil Division
Civil Division was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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]
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:
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;
Adverse factual findings and inferences against the government are not enough to support a claim of bias; and
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).
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 . Coincidentally, it has been my understanding that February 1  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]
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