In Fall 1995 I was a brand-new federal prosecutor, handling the simplest cases available at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles — no-weapon bank robberies, relatively minor drug mules, and aliens returning after deportation.
Congress and the President clashed, and when the shutdown hit in November, federal agencies suspended "non-essential" activities, a classification that was not entirely rational. Oddly, rookie federal prosecutors were deemed "essential," though only in the sense of being required to come to work, not in the sense of enjoying any guarantee of being paid for our work. The agencies we worked with – particularly the INS, as it was called then — were much harder hit. Many of the agents we were supposed to rely upon as witnesses or as case agents (that is, the lead agent in a matter who would coordinate government and civilian witnesses coming to trial) were furloughed.
I had a trial — a 1326, if memory serves — scheduled in December, with a status conference in November. The public defender representing the defendant wanted a continuance, and — since my government witnesses and case agent were furloughed — so did I. I arrived at the hearing unconcerned. How could the judge not see that it was impossible for the lawyer for the government to put a case together with government witnesses furloughed, and how could a judge fail to grant a continuance when the defense wanted one as well?
The late judge Edward Rafeedie barked at me for several minutes, telling me that (1) I was "making up" the government shutdown and furlough, (2) my explanation of why I could not muster a case with the requisite government agents was "double-talk," and (3) I only wanted a continuance because I was just "lazy." No continuance.
Hence the government shutdown of 1995 taught me valuable lessons about how I should regard all three branches of government.
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