Judge: W.H. account of health law drafting 'sparse'
The White House's description of meetings that led to the drafting of President Barack Obama's health care law is too vague to defeat a conservative group's lawsuit seeking minutes of the sessions, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Roberts denied the White House's request to throw out the suit filed by longtime gadfly Larry Klayman and his current organization, Freedom Watch.
In September, White House Deputy Counsel Kimberley Harris filed a declaration (posted here) saying that a group Klayman dubbed the "Obama Health Reform De Facto Advisory Committee," or, far more simply, OHRDFAC, "does not exist and has never existed." She acknowledged talks with "a broad range of stakeholders," including representatives of Planned Parenthood and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
However, Freedom Watch said Harris didn't get into enough detail about the White House's outside consultations to establish that the suit should be rejected.
Roberts, a Clinton appointee, agreed. "Freedom Watch's contention that the information in the Harris declaration is sparse has merit," the judge wrote in a three-page order issued Friday.
"The declaration does not present any reasonably full list of the participants, but only identifies a few examples of attendees and then refers to a website that does not purport to present any comprehensive record of the discussions," Roberts added. "More significantly, the declaration failes to provide enough details to permit an assessment assessment of whether the individuals who participated in the health care reform discussions were asked to render collective advice or produce any other type of collaborative work product....Nor does the declaration provide enough detail to determine the number and formality of meetings or whether the same individuals and entities attended the meetings with regularity."
Roberts instructed the White House to decide by August 13 whether to take another shot at convincing the court that the suit was without merit or allow Klayman to take depositions and seek records related to the meetings. In his earlier incarnation, Klayman became the legal scourge of the Clinton Administration by forcing senior officials into lengthy depositions and subjecting them to wide-ranging questions.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the judge's order.
The Freedom Watch suit was brought under the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, a law which requires public access to most meetings of panels advising the Executive Branch on policy matters.
Politico.com July 13, 2012