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Ending a contentious and long-running civil suit that was plagued in recent years with allegations of government attorney misconduct, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday approved a $3 million settlement and vacated two opinions that the Justice Department said threatened national security. The suit, filed in 1994 by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, has dragged on amid disputes about the state secrets privilege. The plaintiff, Richard Horn, alleged then-CIA officer Arthur Brown and Franklin Huddle Jr. of the State Department unlawfully eavesdropped on telephone communication while Horn was stationed in Burma in the 1990s. The suit remained under seal until last year. In dismissing the case with prejudice, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to notify him whether it will refer allegations of government misconduct to the Office of the Inspector General and to appropriate oversight committees in Congress. If the government makes the referrals, Lamberth said, his role in overseeing sanctions proceedings will end. The judge said there is “disturbing” evidence in a sealed motion that “demonstrates the benefit” of notifying the oversight committees of Congress. “Here, the allegations of wrongdoing by the government attorneys in this case are not only credible, they are admitted,” Lamberth wrote in his a six-page opinion. Lamberth also said: “[T]his Court is called upon to approve a $3,000,000 payment to an individual plaintiff by the United States, and again it does not appear that any government officials have been held accountable for this loss to the taxpayer. This is troubling to the Court.” The attorney misconduct stems from statements CIA lawyers made to Lamberth regarding the covert status of Brown. Brown’s status was central to whether he could remain a defendant in the case. Lamberth said CIA attorneys continued to represent that Brown held covert status even after his cover had been lifted and rolled back several years ago. Lamberth referred one CIA attorney, Jeffrey Yeates, to the district court’s Committee on Grievances for further review of alleged misconduct. A lawyer for Yeates, Troutman Sanders partner Elizabeth Gere in Washington, did not return a call seeking comment before press time. Brown’s lawyer, Morrison & Foerster partner Robert Salerno, declined to comment on Lamberth’s opinion. A lawyer for Huddle, Latham & Watkins associate David Maria, also declined to comment. Brown and Huddle both had private counsel paid for by the government. In the settlement agreement, Justice Department attorneys did not admit wrongdoing. Horn’s lawyer, Brian Leighton, a solo practitioner in Clovis, Calif., made allegations against several other CIA attorneys in the agency’s general counsel’s office. Leighton withdrew his push for sanctions after reaching a settlement. The terms of the agreement required Lamberth to dismiss the suit. The agreement requires the government to pay the $3 million within five days. Lamberth’s opinion clearly isn’t sitting well with at least one lawyer in the case. Drinker Biddle & Reath partner Charles Leeper, who represents CIA attorney Robert Eatinger, said in court papers filed Tuesday that Lamberth is mistaken when he declared that allegations of government misconduct are “credible” and “admitted.” None of the allegations against Eatinger have been tested, Leeper said, so there is no basis that the allegations are true. Leeper called Lamberth’s statement “demonstrably wrong” and is asking the court to delete it. On Tuesday, Lamberth vacated two opinions at the request of the Justice Department. Horn’s lawyer did not oppose the government’s request. Last August, Lamberth directed the Justice Department to grant security clearances to the private lawyers for the plaintiff and defendants, saying that the attorneys have a need to know classified information that their clients possess. DOJ attorneys criticized the ruling, arguing that it could impact national security. On appeal, Justice lawyers said only the executive branch has the authority to determine whether a lawyer has a need to know classified information. DOJ attorneys said Lamberth’s ruling, heralded by some attorneys who litigate state secrets issues against the government, violated separation of powers. When the opposing sides reached a settlement agreement, the action in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was put on hold. Lamberth said in his ruling Tuesday that he was acting in the public interest in vacating the two opinions. But it’s not as if Lamberth has changed his mind about what he wrote. “The reasoning is unaltered, to the extent it is deemed persuasive by anyone,” the judge wrote.

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