The following is an update of the Sharyl Attkisson lawsuit against federal agents for the illegal spying of her while she was a CBS News investigative correspondent.
It has gone virtually unrecognized that I have received an historic clerk's default in my lawsuit over the government's illegal spying into the computers belonging to me and my family. The default was granted to us against a former federal employee who took part in the spy operation while working with a group of federal agents out of the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore, Maryland. As far as we can tell, it is the first such court victory involving a journalist spied on by the government.
When the full case is over, the judge will hopefully proceed with a damages trial to determine what the former federal agent owes to me and my family. Considering that he is unlikely to have funds, the point will be more the idea of finally holding a guilty party accountable for his illegal actions than getting any form of financial redress. According to one federal employee involved in some of the illegal surveillance, I was far from alone. Government agents were spying on many journalists and other U.S. citizens. I just happened to have sources who alerted me and helped me obtain forensic proof. Most people don't have access to such sources. Had the guilty agents in my case been held accountable years ago, we might not have seen the rampant, documented abuses by the intel community in subsequent years.
Meantime, we are still moving forward with the suit against another ex-federal agent (a former Secret Service agent who eventually served prison time for unrelated corruption regarding his work out of the same U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore), and other unnamed officials whose names are yet to be revealed but will hopefully come through discovery in the case.
I have learned a hard fact about the court system and process. It's not enough to prove the government spied on me. We've had that forensic evidence for years and it's irrefutable. It's more a game of figuring out how to get the case to trial so that justice can be served. Laws passed by Congress, and court precedence, offer every protection to the guilty federal agents in ways that probably weren't intended. First, the federal employees and their supervisors have broad immunity for their actions. Second, the burden of what's required to get a case to court is unrealistically high. For example, the courts ask that we provide the names of the guilty parties prior to getting full discovery, but we need full discovery to learn the names of the guilty parties.
And there's a third important issue we're dealing with now. To be able to question current and ex-government employees who have information on the computer intrusions so that we have evidence to take to trial, we must first obtain permission from the government, which is the guilty party.
To be able to question current and ex-government employees who have information on the computer intrusions so that we have evidence to take to trial, we must first obtain permission from the government, which is the guilty party.Sharyl Attkisson
As you might expect, the government is saying "no" to our request to depose or question the federal officials who uniquely hold information and answers to questions that must be asked in order for our case to continue to trial.
As my attorney Tab Turner puts it:
The present situation is unique because the very agencies that investigated the Attkisson allegations happen to be part of the agencies implicated in the surveillance to begin with, a situation that is not only uncommon, but virtually unheard of when one uses words like fair, just, and reasonable. The problem is compounded when the witnesses and evidence we now seek access to happens to be in the hands of some of the very agencies who are refusing to cooperate. Some would fairly conclude that this situation is no different than a judge ruling on his or her own case; a police officer investigating him or herself; or an umpire calling his or her own balls and strikes. Although none of these metaphors may in actuality be realistic, it is the classic situation where the appearance of impropriety takes over simply because it is what is appears. It just tastes bad and smells bad. Why is that important? The Attkissons feel it is important to justification because our system of justice is designed to seek the truth, which cannot be done without full disclosure, especially in a situation such as this where the very agencies refusing to cooperate are the same ones implicated in the alleged misconduct.Attorney Tab Turner in Attkisson v. FBI
A just process would operate on common sense. Forensics show the government intruded upon my computers. The government will not prosecute itself, so the only option left to get accountability is for me to file a civil suit at my own expense. Common sense dictates that forensic proof should be enough to generate a promise from the government to find and punish the guilty parties, learn who else they spied on, and make the victims whole to the extent possible. Instead, the government is using taxpayer money to defend the guilty parties, obstruct the case, and try to dismiss it. The laws are written, whether intentionally or not, in a way that protects federal employees who commit crimes when it comes to lawsuits like mine that try to hold them accountable. The government has the benefit of unlimited funds and attorneys. The courts and the process seem to offer every advantage to the government over the ordinary citizen.
We fight on!
Want to help? Donate to Attkisson's Legal Fund here