Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"We're from the government, and we're here to help you" . . .

. . . or, in this case, to help themselves at your expense!

On September 30, Judge Doherty of the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana handed down a decision in Vidrine v. United States awarding $1.7 million in damages for a malicious prosecution. The facts of what happened are simply appalling, and they deserve wider attention.

First, the background. Hubert Vidrine had been charged with knowingly storing hazardous waste materials without a permit for storing used oil at a refinery site. But there were two big problems with the case: It turned out that there was little evidence that the oil counted as hazardous waste, and no evidence that Vidrine had knowledge of what was happening. The government ended up moving to dismiss its own case, and later Vidrine filed an action under the Federal Tort Claims Act alleging that he was the victim of malicious prosecution. The case of malicious prosecution focused on misconduct by EPA Technical and Regulatory Expert Keith Phillips, who was one of the agents on the case and was responsible for developing the case against Vidrine.

In her decision, Judge Doherty found that Agent Phillips intentionally misled the prosecutor, his bosses, and the court as to the evidence against Vidrine, all to enable a prosecution against Vidrine even though there was no real evidence against him.

. . .

Perhaps the most remarkable part of the Vidrine malicious prosecution case is Judge Doherty’s answer to the “why” question ... :

One of the more distressing allegations made at trial, involved allegations of Agent Phillips’ sexual, extra-marital affair (and its subsequent “cover up”) with Agent Barnhill. The evidence strongly indicated Agent Phillips deliberately used his investigation and prosecution of Hubert Vidrine to foster, further, facilitate and cloak his extra-marital affair with Agent Barnhill, and perhaps, to exert improper influence over the manner in which she investigated and reported upon this case.

. . .

Plaintiffs consistently argued Keith Phillips manufactured a case, both in law and fact, against Hubert Vidrine, and carefully fed the AUSA and his supervisors only the information which would further that end and perpetuate the case, all to promote access to Agent Barnhill and perpetuate and conceal their illicit affair. Regrettably, the Court agrees with plaintiffs: this inappropriate and unprofessional behavior likely was, at least in part (if not in whole) a motivation for Agent Phillips’ continued pursuit of Hubert Vidrine, without probable cause, and certainly with a complete and total reckless disregard of Hubert Vidrine’s rights.

There's more at the link.

Phillips has now pleaded guilty to charges of lying under oath and obstructing justice. May I suggest that a fitting punishment would be to make him pay all legal costs out of his own pocket, then serve a day in prison for every dollar he comes up short? That should keep him behind bars for the rest of his natural life, and then some.

As for the EPA . . . what I said earlier still goes.


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