District of Columbia Courts--Payment of Settlements and Litigation Expenses

B-300009: Jul 1, 2003

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The District of Columbia Courts (Courts) request an advance decision on whether they may pay settlements of claims and suits as prescribed in D.C. Code Ann. 2-402(3)(A) (2001). Section 2-402 empowers the Mayor, in his discretion, to settle civil claims and suits against the District of Columbia arising out of acts of negligence by its officers and employees. That section requires generally that the payment of settlements and judgments of suits under $10,000 and not more than two years old must come from the current fiscal year operating budget of the agency named in the suit. Under the Home Rule Act, Congress retains control over District of Columbia budgetary matters. District legislation may not conflict with the fiscal prerogatives of the Congress. The Courts ask whether section 2-402 conflicts with the appropriations Congress makes for settlements. The Courts also ask whether their operating funds are available for litigation expenses other than settlement payments.

GAO found that although section 2-402 impinges upon the congressional prerogative, for those settlements meeting the criteria of section 2-402 entered into during fiscal years 2002 and 2003, payment should be made from the Courts' operating funds. GAO also concluded that the Courts' operating funds are not available for litigation expenses. Such expenses should be paid from the Office of the Corporation Counsel's appropriated funds.

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