The federal district court in Washington rejected the State Department’s request that a single judge take over the dozens of Clinton email lawsuits pending, dealing a major blow to the Obama administration, which must continue to grapple with more than a dozen judges.
Any one of those judges could order major disclosures, such as requiring the department to try to recover still more messages from former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton or her top aides.
The administration hoped to head that off by asking for the coordinating judge, but in a short ruling Thursday Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts said many of the cases are too far along and that judges are already coordinating informally among themselves anyway.
“On October 6, 2015, the Executive Session of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia considered the State Department’s motion for designation of a coordinating judge and unanimously decided to deny the motion and to close out this miscellaneous case,” Judge Roberts wrote.
Nearly 40 cases are pending in front of more than a dozen judges seeking records under the Freedom of Information Act. The plaintiffs argue that the State Department has been remiss in turning over messages that Mrs. Clinton and several top aides kept on accounts that were not State.gov and that they never returned to the government before they left.
Mrs. Clinton has since turned over more than 50,000 pages of emails she deemed government records, and aides have turned over tens of thousands of pages of their own.
But Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm that accounts for 18 of the cases, has said it wants the government to go through tens of thousands of messages Mrs. Clinton withheld as private business.
It has signaled that it will ask several of the judges to order the State Department to try to recover those messages from her. The ruling Thursday’s means they have to win that argument with just one of the judges.
Their push suffered a setback Wednesday when one of the judges said he doesn’t believe he has that power.
Still, Judicial Watch said the decision to leave the cases in the hands of so many judges is a victory.
“With this obstruction out of the way, we are one step closer to the legal reckoning for Mrs. Clinton’s and the State Department’s contempt for the rule of law,” said Tom Fitton, the group’s president.