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Shutdown shuts down “routine press inquiries,” but not criminal prosecutions

October 1, 2013
By

doj-fund-lapse-2013Today, the first day of the federal-government shutdown, I did something I often do: asked the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO-MD) a question. The response, from spokesperson Marcia Murphy, who is also the assistant to Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, serves as a reminder of how the shutdown can be a hindrance to routines that normally help inform the public of what the government is doing.

“Due to the government shutdown,” Murphy wrote in response to my email, “our press operations have been severely curtailed. Vickie [LeDuc, one of USAO-MD’s public-information officers] is furloughed. I am here (as the U.S. Attorney’s assistant), but am not able to respond to routine press inquiries. I will save your inquiry and respond as soon as the shutdown ends. Sorry!”

In response – after exclaiming, “Crazy!” – I asked Murphy whether it is “a routine press inquiry to ask what happens at USAO-MD as a result of the shutdown?”

At that point, Rosenstein jumped in on the exchange, explaining that “approximately 43 of our 150 paid employees are now furloughed” and that assistant U.S. attorneys (AUSAs) that prosecute crimes “are still here, along with non-attorney employees who are essential to support criminal enforcement operations.” However, he added, “most of our civil AUSAs and support staff are furloughed, along with most administrative employees.”

Rosenstein also quoted the premise for the shutdown contingency plan at U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ): that “the law enforcement capacity of the U.S. Government should not be impaired or perceived to be impaired,” since “to do so could constitute an imminent threat to the safety of human life and the protection of property.”

(In an interesting side-note, DOJ’s homepage, justice.gov, says, quite flatly and matter-of-factly, that “information on this website will not be routinely updated, the transactions submitted via the website may not be processed, and the department may not be able to respond to inquiries until funding has been restored.”)

So, people accused of crimes by the USAO-MD aren’t catching any breaks from the shutdown, but neither is the public – including me, since I can’t quickly confirm something that I was hoping to let City Paper readers know about until the shutdown ends or unless I can find alternate and reliable sources of information about the latest developments at the U.S. District Court.

Oh well. Guess I’ll get to work on that story about cooking with pumpkins, instead.