Too Many Judges, State Department Says of Clinton Emails

Posted September 3, 2015 at 11:21am

The government asked a federal court Thursday to assign to a single judge the cases involving Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a private email server during her stint as secretary of State.

Clinton’s email saga has sparked more than 30 public-records lawsuits assigned to 17 different judges in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The emails are also likely to contain records responsive to hundreds of Freedom of Information requests not currently in litigation. Congress has slashed State Department appropriations for that task.

The government cited those statistics in its motion to the District Court asking for one judge to handle all the cases. The motion illustrates how much the trove of emails to and from the Democratic presidential candidate has captured the attention of the media, government watchdogs and criticism from Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Different judges in the District Court are being asked “to impose a variety of search regimes, resulting in a hodgepodge of orders directing how State manages the search and production of the emails,” the government said.

“The result is confusion, inefficiencies, and advantages given to some requesters at the expense of others,” the government states. “The appointment of a coordinating judge not only would avoid these results but would assist State in its efforts to complete production of the documents produced by former Secretary Clinton by the end of January 2016.”

One judge could ensure conflicting orders aren’t entered, and could take into account the demands on a State Department “whose FOIA-processing resources are overextended,” the motion said. The agency is under orders from one judge to release to the public 53,000 pages worth of 30,000 Clinton emails by January 2016.

The State Department wants to model the approach on the designation of one judge, Thomas F. Hogan, to coordinate and manage more than 100 actions involving habeas petitions for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The department pointed out that Congress has reduced funding by 16 percent since sequestration in fiscal 2013 for Diplomatic and Consular Programs Ongoing Operations, which funds the department’s FOIA program. At the same time, annual federal pay raises and overseas inflation are increasing annual operating costs by at least 3 percent per year, the government said.

What’s not helping: the document review platform the department uses can’t ingest most forms of electronic data. Because of that, “most potentially responsive documents must first be printed and then scanned into the system, even if documents are received electronically,” the department states.