Marking the end of a more than five-year legal battle over $5,000 in unpaid student loans, attorneys for the U.S. government and District of Columbia Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) filed the final judgment against Thomas this afternoon in Washington federal court.
According to the judgment (PDF) - which Thomas unsuccessfully tried to keep under seal - the councilmember will pay $17,277 in unpaid student loans and other fees. He agreed to pay monthly installments of $494.
Both parties agreed to the judgment on Dec. 14, just before Thomas was scheduled for a bench trial in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Thomas had moved (PDF) to keep the judgment under seal, arguing that there was no public interest in publishing the agreement and that it would unfairly harm his reputation as he faces other, unrelated legal troubles. The government opposed (PDF)opposed that request.
On Dec. 23, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson denied the request and ordered (PDF) the parties to file the judgment by today. Robinson found that Thomas failed to offer any authority as to why public access to the document should be restricted.
“This court has recognized that the need for public access to judicial records may be regarded as particularly vital where – as here – members of ‘the taxpaying public are, in effect, real parties in interest[.],’” she wrote, quoting a decision from another case.
Thomas’ attorney, Frederick Cooke of Washington’s Rubin, Winston, Diercks, Harris & Cooke, did not immediately return a request for comment. Thomas Mauro, a Washington solo practitioner, was hired to represent the government in the case. The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment; Mauro could not immediately be reached.
According to court filings, Thomas had failed to pay back the approximately $5,000 he borrowed in 1983 and 1984 for college. The government sued him for nonpayment in March 2006. In addition to the loan amount, the government had sought nearly $15,000 more in fees and interest.
In the motion to seal, Cooke had argued that, “The disclosure of the terms of the consent judgment will only contribute to further public speculation about the Defendant, and will serve to further damage his public image.” Thomas is under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office for allegedly diverting $300,000 in funds designated for youth sports program for his own personal use.
The government responded that Thomas’ other legal woes were irrelevant to the case at hand. “As an elected official the public should have more rather than less access to the information involving the Defendant’s use of a public program such as the federally guaranteed student loan program,” Mauro wrote in his brief.