Whether from personal experience, reading the news or just watching television, most people have some understanding of the basic legal case: a plaintiff sues a defendant, both sides have lawyers that file pleadings and exchange evidence, eventually the case settles or goes to trial where a judge or jury reaches a verdict. The process repeats time and again in courtrooms throughout the country in a relatively predictable pattern.
Whistleblower, or qui tam, cases are entirely different. The roles of a relator and his or her counsel are unique from any other civil case, and being prepared for the unusual role can make a case much more manageable for a relator. There are several common steps in almost every qui tam case where the relator and relator’s counsel will have specific roles to fulfill:
1. Preparing and Initiating the Complaint
There is typically a flurry of activity right after a potential relator first contacts his or her attorney because time is of the essence in getting a qui tam case on file. A relator can greatly assist the process by having all the documents and evidence organized, and by being prepared to do an in-depth factual review of the allegations at one of the first meetings with counsel.
Relator’s counsel will prepare all of the documents, file the complaint, and serve it on the government. It is very important for the relator to remember that the case initially will not be served on the defendant and that the case will be under seal from the moment it is filed, so the relator’s obligations of confidentiality begin immediately.
2. Relator’s Meeting
Shortly after filing a complaint – typically within several weeks – the government will contact the relator’s counsel to set up an initial meeting with the relator. The meeting may be attended by only one government attorney or several attorneys or investigators from different parts of the government, depending on the strength and type of allegations that are raised. The Relator’s Meeting is arguably the most important moment for the relator – it is his or her opportunity to present the allegations to the government and convey the severity of the fraud.
The Relator’s Meeting is also the relator’s first impression on the government as a potential witness if the case were to go to trial, so the relator and his or her counsel will prepare extensively for this meeting. The government attorneys are typically very thorough, so the meeting may be long and comprehensive. A relator should prepare to be very candid in this meeting, so if he or she has any concerns about information that may be disclosed, it is essential to discuss how to handle that with his or her counsel before the meeting.
3. Government’s Investigation
After the relator’s meeting, the government may have immediate follow up requests from the relator, or it may begin its own investigation. This step is where experienced relator’s counsel is the most important, as the relator’s counsel will maintain a relationship with the government throughout this phase. The government’s investigation can take several months or several years.
During this time, the relator may be called on to assist in the investigation in various ways, particularly if the relator is still working for the defendant company. The government may seek assistance identifying witnesses, reviewing documents or even recording important meetings and conversations. The relator should remain patient and fully cooperative with the government throughout this phase, in accordance with his or her counsel’s advice.
4. After a Government Intervention or Declination
If the government chooses to intervene in the case and pursue a recovery, the role of the relator and relator’s counsel will depend entirely on the facts of the case. It may be frustrating to know that the case is progressing and the relator has little involvement, but that is a reality of qui tam cases and the relator should be prepared for that possibility.
If the government declines, the relator and his or her counsel will decide how to proceed based on the facts of the case and the case’s unique circumstances. If the case moves forward, the procedure will resemble a typical civil case as the defendants will be served with the complaint and both sides will begin to work towards a final resolution.
If you believe you have information regarding fraud against the government and are considering bring a False Claims Act case, please contact James Hoyer for an evaluation of your claims. Click here for more information about the firm and to submit your information electronically, or you may contact our office at 813-397-2300.
Written by Jillian Estes