Clean | Green | Sustainable

Media ignores real story with Rehberg’s EAJA crusade

Posted by Matthew Koehler on June 27, 2011

I just got done reading the Missoulian’s article “Environmental Lawsuits: Bill would limit payouts when government loses cases.”

Basically, in the article, the Missoulian helps Rep Denny Rehberg make the supposed case that the Equal Access to Justice Act needs to be reformed because us whacky environmentalists sometimes get some attorney fees covered when we successfully sue the federal government and the government loses.

As the Missoulian wrote, “The Equal Access to Justice Act says any government agency that loses a lawsuit to a private individual, group or business must pay the legal costs of the winner. The money comes out of each agency’s budget, rather than a central fund.”

“[EAJA’s] morphed into something entirely different that wasn’t intended. It’s become a cottage industry for lawsuits, especially in the environmental arena,” explained Rep Rehberg in the article.

Yet, buried in the story (and certainly not reflected in the Missoulian’s headline) is the fact that “just 1 percent of Equal Access cases made awards for environmental lawsuits, and those were split between conservation and industry groups.

“The real question is why does the government keep losing? Instead of getting rid of (EAJA), Congressman Rehberg should provide oversight of federal agencies to find out why they have such a hard time following the law” explained Michael Garrity of the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

So, just what type of cases make up the bulk of actual Equal Access to Justice Act cases? Well, the Missoulian really never tells us this, because apparently they want to keep the focus on the 1% of EAJA cases involving environmental groups.

However, the article does point out, “Other applicants for Equal Access to Justice money include businesses challenging federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and military veterans fighting the Veterans Administration or Department of Defense.”

And anyone with access to Google can find out just how important the Equal Access to Justice Act really is, not only to small businesses and military veterans, but also to Social Security claimants, especially the poor, disabled and disadvantaged.

From Disabled World:

Social Security Disability claimants may have to prepare themselves for another potentially crippling blow, and law firms that represent these claimants, such as Disability Group Inc., may suffer the same fate….The EAJA allows people to apply for awards of attorney fees and other expenses associated with pursuing litigation against the government. EAJA applicants who win their cases against the government and who are eligible may receive their payments after the case closes. This is a vitally important piece of legislation that helps guarantee that citizens of any socio-economic stratum can address legitimate grievances against the government….Any prohibition of EAJA fee award payments will undoubtedly make it difficult, if not impossible, for many Social Security claimants, as well as veterans, to find lawyers to represent them in federal court. This possibility weighs heavily on local and national Social Security Disability law firms across the country. “In my opinion,” writes attorney Douglas Brigandi of Bayside, New York, “it would be a travesty to allow this legislature to go forward and thereby deprive those individuals, who depend on the Social Security Act, the right to obtain these much needed entitlements.”

Perhaps the Missoulian can do another article on this aspect of the EAJA, especially since these cases constitute the vast, vast majority of EAJA cases and one would assume there would be plenty of veterans or small business owners or Social Security claimants in Montana who have benefited from EAJA.

It’s a shame that this EAJA debate with Rep Rehberg and Rep Lummis (R-WY) has been boiled down to the 1% of EAJA cases that are environmental in nature, while Rep Rehberg and Lummis apparently ignore what EAJA does to help level the playing field when the poor and disabled or military veterans and small businesses must hold the federal government accountable through court action.

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