Judge sets October deadlines for Fort Monmouth lawsuit

Cooper set up a several deadlines throughout October to be met by both parties in the case: the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1904 — which filed the suit Monday — and the Department of Justice, which represents Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Army Secretary Pete Geren, both of whom are named as defendants in the suit.
The last of those deadlines is Oct. 25, when both sides will argue their sides of the case.
"We hit a home run today," said John Poitras, president of Local 1904. "We did a good thing for the soldier, for the union and the taxpayer."
Cooper, though, dealt the union a blow when she refused prevent the Army from awarding a $500 million contract for military construction at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland — which is scheduled by 2011 to absorb the bulk of Fort Monmouth's mission.
The union sought to have the award of the contract blocked, arguing that the its award constituted an execution of its plan to shutter Fort Monmouth before the Pentagon reported to Congress on the closure of the fort as required by federal law. Army officials have said the contract is merely proper planning for the inevitable closure of the fort.
Jeff Smith, a Justice Department attorney, had said the contract was to be awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday. But Khaalid Walls, a Corps spokesman, said he was not aware the contract was to be awarded Tuesday. He could not be reached for further comment.
Eugene LaVergne, attorney for the union, said that portion of the suit pertaining to the construction contract likely will be amended by Oct. 5, when the union will ask the judge to place a stop-work order on the contract, if it is awarded. That move, LaVergne said, would allow the Army to award the contract on schedule, but prevent any movement on it, pending the resolution of the lawsuit.
Cooper's decision to weigh whether she has jurisdiction to hear the case while considering the suit's merits was evidence that the union had put together a compelling argument, LaVergne said.
"Make no mistake," he said. "Today was a flat-out win."
The first of the four-count suit asks Cooper to enforce the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure law, which closed the 90-year-old Army post.
The nine-member BRAC commission required that the Pentagon provide a report to Congress ensuring that the closing would not adversely affect the ongoing war on terrorism. The report has not been delivered. The suit argues that any movement in advance of that report is a violation of federal law.
The suit also alleges:
All preparations by the Defense Department to close the fort violate the BRAC law.
Including Fort Monmouth on the list of installations to be closed violated the law because the Defense Department knew the decision was based on false information.
The BRAC commission violated federal law by failing to remove the fort from the list after it found that the DOD had violated six of the eight base-closing criteria.
The hearing Tuesday was the second appearence before Cooper in as many days. The union had filed the suit Monday and asked the judge for an emergency order stopping the pending construction contract in Aberdeen from being awarded.
ON THE WEB: Visit our Web site, www.app.com, and look under Special Reports for a link to Battle for Fort Monmouth to see video from the Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Ground; GAO reports; documents from the Department of Defense and Fort Monmouth; letters from elected officials calling for action; Base Realignment and Closure commission documents; past stories; and more.

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