In a Monday ruling, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, accused the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of lying to the court, displaying “apathy and carelessness” in carrying out the law.
In a suit filed in July 2014, Landmark Legal, whose President is Mark Levin of talk radio fame, accused the EPA of destroying evidence requested via an earlier Freedom of Information act request:
Landmark Legal Foundation today asked Federal District Judge Royce Lamberth to sanction the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for destroying or failing to preserve emails and text messages that may have helped document suspected Agency efforts to influence the 2012 presidential election. Landmark’s request is the latest move in the Foundation’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to force the Agency to release emails, text messages and other materials from former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and others who may have delayed the release dates for hot button environmental regulations until after the November 6, 2012, presidential election. Jackson, Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe, and other Agency officials admitted in depositions that they used their personal, nongovernmental email accounts and text messages sent and received on government-issued BlackBerries and smart phones to conduct official EPA business. The EPA was obligated under federal law to preserve and search those private emails and text messages for information Landmark is seeking, but the Agency failed to do so.
As reported in the Washington Times:
Judge Lamberth described the “absurdity” of the way the EPA handled a Freedom of Information Act request from the Landmark Legal Foundation and then the court case stemming from it — including late last week admitting it lied to the court about how it went about searching for documents.
In a scorching 25-page opinion, the judge accused the agency of “insulting” him by first claiming it had done a full search for records, then years later retracting that claim without any explanation.
“The recurrent instances of disregard that EPA employees display for FOIA obligations should not be tolerated by the agency,” the judge said in a 25-page ruling. “This court would implore the executive branch to take greater responsibility in ensuring that all EPA FOIA requests — regardless of the political affiliation of the requester — are treated with equal respect and conscientiousness.”
The judge chastised EPA Official Eric W. Wachter for providing, “false information to the court, then the EPA tried to withdraw it on Friday, though never explained how it got things wrong in the first place nor why it waited years to admit it had lied to the court.”
Landmark, a conservative public interest legal group, filed a request in 2012 trying to see what outside groups EPA officials had been speaking with as they wrote new rules and regulations.
EPA slow-walked that request, Landmark sued, and the matter has been in front of the courts ever since.
Just Lamberth said at several turns, the EPA was either lying or terribly incompetent in how it handled the situation, both in terms of the search it performed and how it responded to the court case.
“Either EPA intentionally sought to evade Landmark’s lawful FOIA request so the agency could destroy responsive documents, or EPA demonstrated apathy and carelessness toward Landmark’s request,” Judge Lamberth said. “Either scenario reflects poorly upon EPA and surely serves to diminish the public’s trust in the agency.”
Ouch! That had to hurt. Those are strong words by a judge to any organization but especially to an administration that once promised to be the most transparent in history.