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D.C. Federal Judges Play Outsized Role Nationally in FOIA Actions – The National Law Review

dcogcadmin | April 7, 2015

Federal district judges in Washington are the gatekeepers of government records in high demand. The CIA torture report. Prosecution memos about multibillion-dollar deals with big banks. And, now, Hillary Clinton’s emails.

More lawsuits are filed in Washington over access to federal records than in any district court in the country. Nearly half of the 462 cases filed in 2014 under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) were brought in Washington, according to a review of court filings by The National Law Journal. [See Chart.]

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, with its long history as the major forum for public-records disputes, helps shape the resolution of cases in other courts, lawyers who focus on FOIA said. Rulings by Washington judges influence — even if they don’t legally bind — courts around the country.

“Its opinions matter,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Especially when I have a case that I see of great public significance or the potential to set a new precedent on a broader issue under the FOIA, getting a decision in my favor from the district court I think carries a lot of weight.”

While federal district judges in D.C. have a reputation as knowledgeable, there is less uniform praise when it comes to how they manage FOIA litigation. [Read more]