'Don't forget me again': Judge cuts DOJ dad-to-be a break after missed hearing

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • DOJ lawyer James Bickford apologized in writing and open court
  • Sidley Austin is plaintiff in underlying public-records lawsuit against Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

(Reuters) - U.S. Justice Department lawyer James Bickford in Washington, D.C., is an expectant father, a fact that may never have come up in open court but for a rare instance of a government lawyer missing a hearing and facing questions from the judge.

Bickford was forthright and apologetic in a court filing on Tuesday responding to the judge's demand for an explanation.

Bickford said he missed a hearing last week in a federal public-records lawsuit amid the medical and other appointments associated with preparing to be a first-time parent. He blamed himself for a "failure to properly maintain and coordinate his litigation calendar."

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Bickford's predicament highlights the challenges lawyers can face in balancing practice demands and parenting responsibilities.

On Wednesday in court, Bickford told U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton that he was "very sincerely sorry and will be sure it doesn't happen again."

Walton scrapped an order to show cause after receiving Bickford's written explanation for why he did not appear at a status conference in the lawsuit, filed last year by plaintiff law firm Sidley Austin against the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

"Don't forget me again," the judge said.

Bickford declined to comment after the proceeding, and Sidley Austin partner Sean Griffin, an attorney leading the Freedom of Information Act case, did not return a message seeking comment.

Bickford, a Harvard Law School graduate, has been a New York bar member since 2013. He is serving in the Justice Department's federal programs branch, part of the civil division.

Sidley Austin sued CMS to obtain certain regulatory records about the public-private partnership Medicare Advantage program.

Walton wants to meet again in December with the lawyers for an update on the production of requested records. Bickford told the judge he'd be on parental leave then but DOJ will reassign the case.

The case is Sidley Austin v. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:20-cv-01871.

For plaintiff: Sean Griffin of Sidley Austin

For defendant: James Bickford of the Justice Department

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