Well, State Farm’s proposed juror questionnaire obviously didn’t tickle Judge Senter’s funnybone like it did mine, nor did he find it as valuable as Sock. However, there’s no guessing what he thought as he issued an Opinion – Order denying State Farm’s motion today and made his thinking exceedingly clear:
In the past I have used a juror questionnaire consisting of a single yes or no question: “Do you or any member of your family have a pending lawsuit for Hurricane Katrina damages, or have you had such a lawsuit in the past?” This questionnaire has worked well in the past as a means of screening jurors who would be subject to dismissal for cause without creating any of the problems outlined above. I will follow this same procedure in this case.
He actually said a bit more about his objections but I need to move quickly to the other order Judge Senter issued today because I, first, have to apologize for leaving a related October 5, 2010 Orderr lingering in my bulging “drafts file”.
I will decline at this time to vacate my order of dismissal until I reach the merits of the USA’s objection to this settlement…negotiated between Relators and Forensic Analysis and Engineering, Inc. (Forensic)…the United States of America shall have a period of twenty days within which to make known any objection it may have to the terms of the settlement at issue by the filing of appropriate pleadings; and Since the United States of America is not a party to this action, I will allow the Relators and the other parties a period of ten days from the date the United States files its pleadings to respond through pleadings addressing the issues raised by the United States. (emphasis added)
The USA was johnny felicia-on-the-spot and a few days early filing the government’s Notice of Rejection of Settlement…and Motion to Dismiss…[Forensic]Without Prejudice – but I suppose an assistant US Attorney pays more attention when reportedly under consideration for the top spot. Nonetheless, the government has a history of untimely filing in the Rigsby qui tam case that includes a nunc pro tunc January 11, 2007 Application for a Second Six-Month Extension of Time to Consider Election to Intervene.
Judge Senter may or may not have been surprised by the timing of the government’s filing but hisOrder Continuing Trial and Setting Status Conference clearly indicates he was perplexed by the government’s position.
The United States prefers a dismissal without prejudice rather than the dismissal with prejudice called for by the settlement agreement between the Relators and Forensic. Curiously, the United States rejects the terms of the settlement agreement and suggests that rather than paying a settlement of $25,000 to the Relators, Forensic pay nothing.
By taking this position, the United States has made it impossible for Forensic and the Relators to go forward under the terms of their settlement agreement, since the consent of the United States is required in order for this settlement to be approved.
The position of the United States is made all the more curious in that the United States’ stated reason for rejecting the proposed settlement accepted by the Relators is Forensic’s insolvency and hence its inability to pay the agreed settlement of $25,000.
In light of this action on the part of the United States and in light of the motions now pending, which, if granted might greatly expand the scope of this litigation, I have decided to continue the trial of this case from its present setting on December 1, 2010, and to set a status conference on that date to hear from all parties on the merits of themotions that remain undecided at that time. These motions are fully briefed, and I donot anticipate requiring any additional briefings at this time. After this conference, I willreschedule the trial to accommodate my rulings on the pending motions.
I’m perplexed, too, and not just by the governments position. According to my review of the Rigsby qui tam docket, there is only one motion pending that might expand the scope of…[the Rigsby qui tam]…litigation. However, I can I think of other cases with motions that might expand the scope of the Rigsby case but those motions were filed in qui tam cases before a Louisiana court.