Justice Department's flip-flop on Ivins could be costly

U.S. Justice Department errors may have boosted the prospects that the federal government will be liable for millions of dollars in damages for failing to prevent the death of a Florida man during the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Department lawyers recently filed court papers that appeared to undercut their assertion that U.S. Army scientist Bruce Ivins was the killer, according to KansasCity.com. The filings said that Ivins had no access to the sophisticated equipment in a laboratory that could be used to make anthrax powder.

Four days later, the Justice Department revised its filing, this time stating that Ivins lacked access in his lab to a specific machine that could dry wet anthrax powder.

"I think it creates a great deal of problems for the government," Paul Kemp, who represented Ivins before his 2008 suicide, said, KansasCity.com reports.

A spokesman for the Justice Department refused to comment on what impact the retraction could have on the civil litigation.

Lawyers for the family of Robert Stevens, who was the first to die from exposure to the mailed anthrax, are seeking $50 million in damages, KansasCity.com reports. Attorneys for the Stevens family will likely have the chance to present the conflicting government statements to a jury.

Richard Schuler, the lead attorney for the Stevens family, told KansasCity.com that he believed government lawyers were attempting to pick and choose what facts they believe will support them most fully in a civil case and are succeeding only in contradicting their own investigators - the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.