High-ranking White House officials will be called to testify next month in federal court at a trial to determine whether President Clinton's healthcare task force violated the law by holding private meetings.
The task force and its working groups were disbanded last May. But the lawsuit, filed against the federal government by three healthcare organizations-which charged the panel with operating illegally-has yet to be resolved.
Kent Masterson Brown, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he would call senior White House adviser Ira Magaziner and possibly first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to testify.
The plaintiffs charge the administration with violating provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which bars groups that are organized to give advice or recommendations to the president from meeting in private, unless they are wholly comprised of full-time federal employees.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled last week that there were "too many disputed issues" involving the task force and its working groups for him to make a decision about the case in the absence of a trial, which will begin Sept. 12.
Judge Lamberth also will decide at the trial whether Mr. Magaziner should be charged with contempt of court for initially claiming in an affidavit that all members of the task force working groups were federal employees, which would make them exempt from the FACA statute.
The working groups met continually for months and drafted a variety of documents on reform issues.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they had scored a major victory last week when government attorneys said they would not argue at the trial that the working groups were comprised of federal employees. They also claimed that concession meant the only remaining issue to prove would be whether the working groups and task force were explicitly structured to provide recommendations to President Clinton.
The plaintiffs, led by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Tucson, Ariz., filed suit last year, seeking release of all documents drafted by the task force and working groups. The groups also wanted documentation of how much the effort had cost taxpayers.