Thursday, June 29, 2006
Whistleblower Suits Changed ‘Corporate Culture,’ Attorney Tells ACLU Supporters
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Qui tam lawsuits under the False Claims Act have improved the conduct of American business and inspired similar legislative proposals in other countries, but the law still needs improvement, a leading “whistleblower” attorney told supporters of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation yesterday.
“Corporate conduct has been changed tremendously,” John R. Phillips, a former Los Angeles attorney who now practices in Washington, D.C., said at the group’s annual Law Luncheon. “Corporate culture has been changed.”
Phillips, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organization, related the history of the qui tam provision. The attorney, who co-founded the Center for Law in the Public Interest while practicing at O’Melveny & Myers, which he joined after law school in the 1970s, said he spent a great deal of time during those early years fretting about how to pay for public interest litigation.
It became clear early, he explained, that foundation grants would not be a stable source of funding, that the costs of the litigation had to be shifted to the parties whose misconduct caused the litigation in the first place. Out of that view, Phillips said, came California’s private attorney general statute, sponsored by then-Assembly Majority Leader Howard Berman, a Los Angeles Democrat.
Phillips said he later persuaded Berman, who had been elected to Congress, and Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has been an outspoken critic of procurement fraud, to sponsor legislation to put teeth into the FCA, which was known as the “Lincoln Law” because it was enacted during the Civil War to target profiteers.
The law provides for treble damages against those who make fraudulent claims for payment by the U.S. government. Under the qui tam provision, a private citizen who has personal knowledge, from non-public sources, of such fraud can sue on the government’s behalf and keep up to 25 percent of the settlement or award.
Canada and the United Kingdom are considering similar legislation, and 20 states, including California, have passed their own versions, Phillips said. The attorney criticized the Bush administration for its opposition to amendments that Phillips said would make the law a tougher deterrent to fraud and put more money back in public coffers.
Other award recipients were Tasneem Dohadwala and Robert LeMoine, who received the Education Advocacy Award; Michael Chamberlain, Samantha Goodman, and B. Scott Silverman, the Racial Justice Award; David W. Burcham of Loyola Law School, the Distinguished Professor Award; David C. Codell, the LGBT Award; and Virginia Keeny and Anne Richardson, the Pro Bono Advocacy Award.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company