The Judgment Fund: The government’s secretive, unlimited bank account
President Biden fervently denied reports that his administration could pay 450 thousand dollars per person to families separated at the border during the Trump Administration.
“That’s not going to happen,” Biden said.
But the ACLU says they’re negotiating with the Justice Department.
And the fact is, billions are paid out each year to settle lawsuits against the United States government, using a little known account called the Judgment Fund.
It’s the same fund The Justice Department will use to pay about 130 million dollars to Parkland shooting victims because the FBI failed to act on tips saying the perpetrator was planning a school shooting.
So what is the judgment fund?
The Bureau of Fiscal Service describes it as a way to quote: “pay final money judgments and awards against the United States.” In other words, it’s a limitless bank account to pay for government screwups which include everything from federal tort claims to medical malpractice against the VA.
“It was established by congress by statute and is a very rare, permanent, indefinite appropriation,” said Jeffrey Axelrad, the former Director of the Justice Department’s Torts Branch.
In 2011 the Judgment Fund paid out more than 2.9 billion dollars.
In 2015, 8,600 claims cost nearly 2.6 billion.
And in 2020 7,500 payments totaled 14.2 billion dollars.
Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer introduced the Judgment Fund Accountability Act which would block payments to people who entered the US illegally.
The bill would also require descriptions of the facts that gave rise to each claim.
“I think it’s important for congress to have oversight when it comes to an obscure government fund that seems to be very secretive,” said Senator Fischer.
It’s secretive because information regarding the payments, including who they’re made to and why, is often redacted. There are claims that are entirely under seal, including the department responsible, and the amount paid. These payments are supposed to be for legitimate settlements in court cases. But in cases like these, it’s impossible to know.
“There are instances when it has not been used in that way and the taxpayer needs to know that,” said Senator Fischer.
Former DOJ Attorney Jeffrey Axelrad says he witnessed attempted misuses first hand, and stopped those payments from going through.
“I dealt with many, many instances over my career of agencies wanting to use the judgment fund where it was not authorized to be used by the statute.” said Axelrad.
In 2017 before the House Judiciary Committee, former DOJ attorney Paul Figley made examples of cases where settlements cost more than 100 million dollars each.
“Each paid much more money than the government was likely to lose in court. Decisions to settle them on generous terms appear politically motivated,” said Figley.
So what do you think of the Judgment fund? Let us know in the comments below.