Whistleblowers and the press are not often two groups that really get to interact. There is usually not much in the newspapers about False Claims Act cases and whistleblower law, and with good reason—under most whistleblower reward laws, It is very difficult to conduct the investigation and preparation of a case while talking to the press or to the public. Read on to learn more about the relationship between False Claims Act cases and the press, and consult a DC False Claims Act attorney to find out how it might apply to your case.
Why False Claims Act Cases Are Filed Under Seal
The False Claims Act more or less set the precedent limiting interactions between False Claims Act cases and the press by requiring filings to be made under seal, and by requiring that a whistleblower bring the case on the basis of information that is not publicly disclosed.
Historically, the idea of preventing a reward for a whistleblower using public information came to pass because relators could stand on the courthouse steps and, if they heard of a case being filed in a criminal action, turn around and file a civil action themselves in order to get a reward. How often it actually happened that way, though, is uncertain. It is also hard to understand whether it matters in the context of getting a case filed and getting the United States back money taken from it by fraud.
Arguably, the government could always file a civil case based on information it already has and preclude any relator from collecting anything. Based on that, it does not seem to make sense that a whistleblower should be precluded from collecting just because they found some information somewhere in public. Nonetheless, that is the general standard under the law.
How the Press Treats False Claims Act Cases
The law does allow somebody who is an original source of the information to pursue a False Claims Act case even if their allegation(s) have appeared in public. However, once the case is filed, it is filed under seal in order to allow the government to investigate the allegations, so press coverage both before the case is filed and after is likely to be limited.
Because of this, False Claims Act cases tend to have a lower profile in the press than most other cases involving the amounts of money and types of issues often seen in these cases. When they are settled, no matter how serious the allegations were or how much money a settlement is, it is a somewhat less dramatic event than a trial with a verdict.
Even assuming the allegations are publicly disclosed for some considerable period of time, the whistleblower filing a False Claims Act case cannot comment on the False Claims Act case for fear of losing an opportunity to obtain a reward and violating a court order. As a result, False Claims Act lawyers in Washington, D.C. are not prone to discuss much about False Claims Act cases during the entire length of the government’s investigation. False Claims Act cases that are pursued in full litigation are rare, most that are successful settle, and rarer still is the False Claims Act case is pursued in litigation without the support of the Government.
How Whistleblower Laws Can Lead to Lower-Profile Outcomes
The False Claims Act is not the only whistleblower reward law, of course, but the others also tend to provide lower-profile outcomes in the public eye. There are also the SEC (“Securities and Exchange Commission”), the CFTC (“Commodity Futures Trading Commission”), and the IRS (“Internal Revenue Service”) whistleblower reward laws.
These laws do not include an independent right of action for the whistleblower to proceed in court. They do, however, allow a whistleblower to present information to these agencies to pursue a potential collection. The frequency of these collections is relatively modest even though when they occur they are usually pretty large cases. Under the SEC and CFTC Whistleblower Programs, it is possible for a whistleblower to provide information to the government in an attempt to collect on an anonymous basis.
Call an Attorney to Discuss False Claims Act Cases and Press Involvement
Contrary to what others may believe, False Claims Act cases and the press often do not interact. In fact, many whistleblowers prefer to disclose their allegations and collect their awards anonymously, and whistleblowers as a whole are often less likely to go to the press with their information.
Both the SEC and the CFTC have done their best to protect whistleblower identity, and while that is to be commended in terms of protecting the whistleblower, it has led to somewhat less publicity for these laws. An experienced False Claims Act lawyer understands all of this and could work diligently to ensure that your voice is heard.