Lawyers in the U.S. attorney's office in Washington committed "egregious misconduct" in their handling of discovery in a lawsuit that challenges how the Federal Bureau of Prisons treats inmates classified as terrorists, a judge said this week.
Randall Todd Royer, also known as Ismail Royer, is serving a 20-year prison sentence after he admitted helping individuals gain access to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. He was housed in the general prison population for the first three-and-a-half years of his confinement, but claims he was subjected to more restrictive conditions after prison officials designated him as a "terrorist inmate" in late 2006.
Royer, a U.S. citizen born in Missouri, filed two lawsuits against the Bureau of Prisons in 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He accused the bureau of failing to follow rulemaking processes required by federal law in adopting the "terrorist inmate" program. He also alleged the prison system wrongfully classified him as a "terrorist inmate" based on false information and denied him the opportunity to challenge the designation.
Senior Judge Royce Lamberth denied the government's efforts to dismiss both cases in March 2013. Royer's attorneys made requests for discovery in June 2013. In the months that followed, Lamberth, in a Jan. 15 order, said the bureau's lawyers in the U.S. attorney's office committed a series of "egregious" errors. The judge cited missed deadlines, the production of discovery on a rolling basis and the submission of information without the proper signature.
"Even novices to litigation know that answers to interrogatories must be signed under oath," the judge wrote. Lamberth ordered the government to produce outstanding information to Royer's lawyers and to pay attorney fees.
The judge criticized the bureau's lawyers for making the "sneering argument" that Royer wasn't prejudiced by delays because he was already in prison.
"The whole point of this litigation is whether defendant can continue to single out plaintiff for special treatment as a terrorist during his continued period of incarceration," Lamberth wrote. "Did any supervising attorney ever read this nonsense that is being argued to this Court?"
Lamberth is serving on assignment in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. If he were sitting in D.C., he wrote, "I would hold a hearing in open court to hold the government attorneys accountable for their misconduct here."
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, William Miller, declined to comment. Royer argued the two cases without a lawyer until May 2013, when Michael Kirkpatrick and Jehan Patterson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group entered appearances.
Kirkpatrick said Lamberth "appropriately recognized that there's some real urgency to produce the discovery."
"There's a real risk in a case like this that the government can simply run out the clock," Kirkpatrick said. "[Royer] could ultimately be released and his claims would be moot if the government was able to drag this out for a very long time."
Royer pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and with aiding and abetting the carrying of an explosive during the commission of a felony. In his plea agreement, he admitted helping co-defendants enter a camp in Pakistan run by Lashkar-e-Taiba-a group classified as a foreign terrorist organization-where they received weapons training.
He claimed his "terrorist inmate" designation was based on information prosecutors in the criminal case acknowledged was false linking Royer to Al Qaeda. Although the trial judge ordered the government to delete the information from Royer's pre-sentencing report, Royer claimed the Bureau of Prisons kept the inaccurate information in its records and used it to make the "terrorist inmate" classification.
Royer also accused the Bureau of Prisons of adopting the "terrorist inmate" program without going through the processes laid out in the federal Administrative Procedure Act.
Lawyers for the government have defended the "terrorist inmate" classification and the adoption of the program.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.