September 20, 2010

False Claims Act gag orders hide Iraq War costs, public safety concerns and other allegations of fraud against the U.S. Government

Richmond, VA--Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union presented oral arguments in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday in a lawsuit challenging the overreaching secrecy provisions of a federal whistleblower law that prevents the public from learning about serious allegations of fraud against the United States government.
Complaints filed under the False Claims Act are automatically placed under seal and those who file them are gagged from speaking, keeping the complaints secret from the public for months and, in some cases, years.  Such complaints include allegations of military contractor fraud during the Iraq War and warnings of ongoing threats to public health and safety.
"The False Claims Act is an important law that allows citizens who believe fraud is being committed against the government, and therefore taxpayers, to file complaints that may then be investigated and prosecuted by the Department of Justice," said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, "but the gag and seal provisions threaten to undermine the law's viability."
"There is more than a little irony in the fact that the False Claims Act was passed to bring claims of fraud to the light of day," added Willis, "yet it contains provisions that act to keep these claims hidden from the public."
The case was originally filed by the ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia in U.S. District Court in Alexandria in January 2009 on behalf of themselves, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and OMB Watch.  The government filed a motion to dismiss, which was heard in June 2009.  In August 2009, the district court granted the government's motion.  The ACLU then appealed to the Fourth Circuit.
The case is ACLU v. Holder (originally ACLU v. Mukasey).  Attorneys on the case are Chris Hansen and Ben Wizner of the national ACLU, and Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia.  Hansen presented oral arguments yesterday.
The ACLU's appellate briefs are available at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/4th-circuit-opening-brief.pdf and http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Reply-Brief-for-Appellants-ACLU-v.-Holder-2010.2.9.pdf.  The district court complaint is available at http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/aclu-et-al-v-mukasey-et-al-complaint.

CONTACTS:

National ACLU Rachel Myers media@aclu.org

ACLU of Virginia Rebecca Glenberg 804-644-8022

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