WASHINGTON -- Two colleagues who once fought drugs in the San Joaquin Valley have won satisfaction in a 15-year legal battle that shone a spotlight on the nation's spies.
Capping a remarkable courtroom ride, Clovis attorney Brian Leighton and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Richard Horn secured a $3 million settlement from the Justice Department. The confidential settlement filed Tuesday ends a lawsuit that embarrassed past and present CIA officials.
"No one should have to endure what we did for 15 years," Leighton said Tuesday night. "The government greatly miscalculated our endurance and resolve."
In the original lawsuit filed by Leighton in U.S. District Court in Washington, Horn claimed a CIA officer and a diplomat had collaborated in illegally eavesdropping on his conversations.
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Leighton declined Tuesday to describe how the $3 million would be divided. As is customary, the settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing by the Justice Department or individual defendants.
The Justice Department, too, gets something out of the settlement. After succeeding for years in keeping the entire lawsuit sealed, government officials were facing the possibility that sensitive practices and prior investigations would be exposed.
Leighton agreed as part of the settlement to stop seeking contempt-of-court sanctions on former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, former CIA officer Arthur Brown and four CIA attorneys.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth suggested that the past and present CIA men may have perpetrated a "fraud on the court" through inaccurate declarations.
"The court does not give the government a high degree of deference because of its prior misrepresentations," Lamberth wrote in July, adding later that the "misconduct by the government ... [raises] very serious implications."
Until Lamberth's angrily worded July decision, government attorneys had successfully argued that the lawsuit first filed in August 1994 must be sealed in order to protect state secrets.
Lamberth hinted in September that the government could be on a losing course if the case went to trial, as he suggested that "the only secret the government might have left to preserve is the fact they did what Horn alleges."
A 59-year-old former federal prosecutor, Leighton worked closely with Horn when the DEA agent served in California. Since leaving the Justice Department, Leighton has represented San Joaquin Valley agricultural clients.
Horn went on to serve as the DEA's top agent in Burma, where he says he ran afoul of a State Department diplomat.
In one legal filing, Horn claimed the State Department and CIA wanted to deny Burma any credit for its drug enforcement, which he considered substantial. He wanted Burma's efforts told to Congress and the executive branch.
Horn claims the conflict came to a head in 1993 when CIA officer Arthur Brown illegally wiretapped him -- including telephone conversations he had with Leighton, who was still in Clovis -- and shared the results with diplomat Franklin Huddle.
Horn's DEA career subsequently ended after he was withdrawn from his Burma post.