Ignoring federal shutdown, Goodwin says he'll hear civil cases involving government

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 3, 2019

CHARLESTON – One West Virginia federal judge plans to continue to hear civil cases involving the federal government despite the government shutdown.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin issued a general order Jan. 2 exempting civil cases assigned to him from the federal shutdown that affects the U.S. Department of Justice.

The order is titled “Civil Cases, Assigned To Judge Joseph R. Goodwin, In Which The United States Is A Party Are Exempt From The General Order, Entered On December 26, 2018, Holding Such Cases In Abeyance.”

The Dec. 26 order, filed by fellow Southern West Virginia District Judge Irene Berger, said civil cases in which the U.S. is a party were stayed because of the shutdown. Goodwin’s Jan. 2 order nullifies that for his courtroom.

“I find that the government shutdown ‘is a dispute internal to one party, the federal government,’” Goodwin wrote. “It is my view that the government should not be given special influence or accommodation in cases where such special considerations are unavailable to other litigants.

“The government, like all parties, is ‘required to find the means by which to continue its participation in its litigation on a timely basis regardless of internal issues.'”

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia said he and his staff would respect Goodwin's order.

"He’s the judge, and we are fully prepared to try our cases," Mike Stuart told The West Virginia Record when asked about Goodwin's order.

The Goodwin family has a long history in state politics and on the bench. Goodwin has been a federal judge since 1995. His wife Kay was the state Secretary of Education and the Arts. His son Booth was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia from 2010 to 2015, and he ran for governor in 2016. In 2010, Goodwin's nephew Carte briefly was a U.S. Senator, taking the seat held by Robert C. Byrd before Joe Manchin won the election to fill the seat permanently. Goodwin's daughter-in-law Amy soon will become Charleston's next mayor.

Goodwin’s order drew attention nationally.

“This is QUITE the order from a fed judge in West Virginia,” tweeted BuzzFeed reporter Zoe Tillman. “The court agreed to put civil cases on hold that involve DOJ, given the shutdown. Judge Joseph Goodwin was ... not a fan, and said DOJ won't get special treatment before him just because the govt is fighting with itself. …

“To put this in context: Most judges have been agreeing to requests by DOJ to stay civil litigation as long as there's a shutdown. Goodwin's order has echoes of what we saw in 2013, which was judges bristling at a political fight tying up the business of the courts.”

In her Dec. 26 order, Berger mentioned federal furloughs and staffing shortages.

“Therefore, the lapse in appropriations requires a reduction in the workforce of the United States Attorney’s Office and other federal agencies, particularly with respect to the prosecution of civil cases,” Berger wrote.

According to reports, West Virginia’s federal courts have enough funding to operate until next week before they will be affected. Many staff members will continue to work without pay, but some employees likely will be furloughed.

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