Judge Slams U.S. Over ‘Laughable’ Shutdown Delay Request

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. judge overseeing a veteran’s multimillion-dollar negligence lawsuit in Puerto Rico rebuked the Justice Department for attempting to use the partial government shutdown to put the case on hold, calling the request "laughable."

In a ruling denying the government’s bid for more time, U.S. District Judge William G. Young said lapses in federal appropriations, like the current one triggered by President Donald Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall with Mexico, aren’t a government "policy" that could theoretically justify staying such a lawsuit.

"Let us talk plain -- they are simply an abdication by the president and the Congress (which could override a presidential veto) of the duty to govern responsibly to the end that all the laws may be faithfully executed," Young said in the Jan. 2 ruling in San Juan. "Nor does such a lapse in any way excuse this court from exercising its own constitutional functions."

Young, who is based in the Boston federal court but sitting in San Juan as a visiting judge, sarcastically compared the situation to a major corporation that "for whatever reason" decided not to pay its attorneys involved in pending litigation and instructed them not to interact with the court.

"Then the corporation says to the court, ‘We greatly regret any disruptions caused to the court and to other litigants, but please stay all proceedings until we get our act together.’ This does not constitute ‘good cause’ for any stay," Young wrote. "In fact, it is laughable."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rafael López-Rivera in San Juan made the request for a delay in December in a two-page document that was similar to others filed in cases across the U.S., with mixed success.

For example, a judge on Monday granted a U.S. request to postpone until June 3 a trial of its lawsuit against D-Link Corp., a Taiwanese maker of home-networking equipment, for allegedly leaving its products vulnerable to hackers through lax security protocols. The trial was due to start Jan. 14.

The Federal Trade Commission claims D-Link and a U.S. unit failed to secure their routers and web cameras, exposing thousands of American consumers to targeted online security breaches. D-Link has denied the allegations and said it would defend itself it court.

In the Puerto Rico case, the government faces a March deadline for evidence discovery, and a trial is set for July. Filed in 2017, the suit seeks about $18 million in damages for a man who says the VA Medical Center in San Juan misdiagnosed him during a 2015 visit and sent him home early. He claims the facility failed to treat him for what turned out to be a dangerous septic illness that resulted in the amputation of five fingers, a hand and both legs below the knee.

"Appropriations or no, this court will continue to sit daily, attending to the quotidian details of getting all cases ready for trial and trying them in a timely fashion as required by the Constitution," the judge wrote.

The case is Colon-Morciglio v. U.S., 17-cv-2312, U.S. District Court, District of Puerto Rico (San Juan).

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