Trials & Litigation

Judge ‘already mad’ over government’s refusal to disclose information to shooting survivors

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A federal judge in San Antonio stormed out of his own courtroom and sanctioned Department of Justice lawyers Wednesday after they refused to disclose the names of Air Force personnel who failed to alert the FBI that an airman—who was later responsible for the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history—had a domestic violence conviction.

“I have to take a break, as I am already mad,” Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas said, less than five minutes into a status hearing on the shooting victims’ negligence lawsuit against the federal government.

The San Antonio Express-News and Courthouse News Service have coverage.

Dishonorably discharged Air Force airman Devin Kelley killed 26 people and injured at least 20 others in the November 2017 massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a small town southeast of San Antonio.

Since June 2018, survivors and victims’ families have filed 19 lawsuits that were consolidated into one case in federal court. They allege that Kelley would not have been able to purchase the rifle and ammunition used in the shooting if the Air Force had reported his conviction to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, which is required by law.

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for beating his wife and fracturing his young stepson’s skull, Courthouse News Service reports.

When Rodriguez returned to the bench after a 15-minute break, DOJ lawyers Austin Furman and Paul Stern requested a protective order and indicated that they would not put the staff at fault on public record.

“Government, with its infinite wisdom … has decided it doesn’t want to disclose the names,” Rodriguez said, according to Courthouse News Service. He denied their request and ordered the DOJ to submit the names by the end of the day Friday.

Rodriguez reminded the lawyers that courts are open forums, and the Air Force personnel were not entitled to protection unless they are facing threats, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

The judge also sanctioned Furman for failing to comply with civil disclosure rules, telling him that he was obligated to disclose the names of people who have knowledge of relevant facts to the plaintiffs. He ordered the DOJ to pay the plaintiffs’ fees for the 13 attorneys present at the hearing.

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