Judge Scolds Cheney Lawyers
by Susan Cornwell, Reuters
WASHINGTON -- An appeals judge told lawyers for Vice President Richard Cheney Thursday they had no basis to ask the court to intervene in a suit seeking White House energy policy papers, saying "You have no case."
The three-judge U.S. appellate court panel did not indicate when it would rule on the Bush administration's request that it bar a lower court from letting the case proceed.
Appeals Judge Harry Edwards, who dominated the questioning during oral arguments by lawyers, said the Bush administration appeared to be arguing, wrongly, that it was immune from litigation.
"You pretend there is no law on the books. You have no case," Edwards lectured Justice Department attorney Gregory Katsas.
Judge David Tatel added the government lawyers had not shown there would be harm done to the vice president if the lawsuit, by the private watchdog group Judicial Watch and environmental group Sierra Club, proceeded in the lower court.
Government lawyers late last year asked the appeals court to step into the lawsuit, which was filed to seek documents on the energy task force that Cheney directed in 2001.
The task force produced a policy paper calling for more oil and gas drilling and a revived nuclear power program.
Environmentalists say they were largely shut out of the decision-making process, while Cheney was meeting industry chieftains such as former Enron Corp executive Ken Lay to discuss energy policy.
Cheney was the chief executive of energy and construction company Halliburton Co. from 1995 to 2000.
The administration has asked the appeals court to bar the lower court's "discovery" order telling the White House to either produce some task force documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding.
The third judge on the appeals panel, Raymond Randolph, suggested the administration lawyers could have argued that to comply with the lower court's order to produce some documents would be tantamount to losing the case.
But Edwards pointed out that the administration had not made that argument. "You're not arguing that case," he said.
Noting that the administration had made its appeal of the discovery order in the middle of the lawsuit, before the federal district court was even finished with the case, Edwards added, "You want an exception to the normal rules."
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the administration last October to produce the documents or submit a detailed explanation of what they were withholding and why.
The administration has handed over some 39,000 pages of documents in the lawsuit from agencies such as the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, but the White House has not produced any of its task-force papers.
After Thursday's hearing, Judicial Watch's general counsel, Larry Klayman, predicted the appeals court would rule in the group's favor but said even then it could still be months before the White House produces any of its task force documents.
In a separate case, the investigative arm of Congress, the General Accounting Office, said in February it was giving up its courtroom battle to get records of the energy task force.
Suit Versus Cheney Is Dismissed by Neely Tucker, Washington Post, 12/10/2
Enron Met 6 Times with Cheney or His Staff by Reuters, 1/9/2
U.S. Court Denies Cheney Appeal on Energy Papers by Susan Cornwell, 7/9/3
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