Colin Walsh
Texas Employer Lawyer Colin Walsh

Hark, frēndes! The feld flours blosme and the sǒnne shines.  “Tis spring.  And that means its Ren Fest season!

Right now, through April 24, just outside of Austin there is the Sherwood Forest Faire.  After that, head north by horse for three days and you will arrive at Scarborough Renaissance Festival.  If you are going to Scarborough Faire, can you please check in on one who lives there and see if my Cambric shirt with no seems or needlework is ready?

In honour of the season, I thought it might be fun to look at some of ye olde qui tam actions.  My colleagues have previously written much more useful and informative blogs on modern American qui tams, which enable individuals to sue government contractors and grantees on behalf of the government for fraud.  Mostly these involve Medicare and Medicaid fraud, but there are other types of fraud claims that can be brought through qui tam actions as well.  If you wish for such practical and helpful information because you think your employer is defrauding the government, let me refer you to the following two blogs:

Julie St. John’s 2021 blog, “When You Believe Your Employer is Defrauding the Federal Government – Protection from Retaliation, available at:

https://www.texasemploymentlawyer.com/2021/04/when-you-believe-your-employer-is-defrauding-the-federal-government-protection-from-retaliation/

Deontae Wherry’s 2020 blog, The False Claims Act: Suing Your Employer on Behalf of the Government, available at:

https://www.dallasemploymentlawyer.com/the-false-claims-act-suing-your-employer-on-behalf-of-the-government/

Essentially, a qui tam action is an action that allows enforcement of the law by an uninjured private citizen on behalf of the government in exchange for a share of the proceeds obtained in a successful prosecution of the claim.  You can find laws providing for such actions going all the way back to Ancient Rome.  For example, in the first century B.C.E., Cato the Younger both sued his political opponents and was sued by them for alleged violations of criminal law.  In the Sixth Century C.E., during Justinian’s reign, a private citizen could be prohibited from bringing a private enforcement action if that citizen had already brought two prior qui tam actions.

In 695 C.E., the King of Kent in England passed a law that prohibited work between sunset on Saturday and sunset on Sunday.  If you informed the authorities about someone who violated that law, you would be entitled to half of the healsfang, or fine, collected from that damnable overachiever who worked on the weekends as well as half of the profits form the labour that was done during that time.

In the fourteenth century, the English Parliament provided many avenues for qui tam actions as a way to ensure enforcement of the laws.  Here are a couple fun ones.

The 1331 law providing a qui tam mechanism to enforce aspects of the 1328 Statute of Northampton is relevant to the current faire season.  The Statute of Northampton, in part, regulated the length of time fairs could remain open.  However, both merchants and lords had incentives to keep fairs open longer.  Merchants obviously wanted to sell more product and the lords who hosted the fairs often collected tolls on the total merchandise sold at the fair.  So, to ensure compliance with the law, Parliament enabled private citizens to sue on behalf of the King and, as reward, receive a fourth of what was forfeited.  The penalty for violations was double the value of what was sold outside the permissible time for the fair.

In 1455, Parliament passed an Ordinance limiting the number of lawyers that could practice in the City of Norwich to two and in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk to six each.  The preamble to this Ordinance is too good not to quote at length:

Whereas of Time not long past within the City of Norwich, and the Counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, there were no more but six or eight Attornies at the most, [coming] to the King’s Courts, in which Time great Tranquillity reigned in the said City and Counties, and little Trouble or Vexation was made by untrue or foreign Suits; And now so it is, that in the said City and Counties there be Fourscore Attornies, or more, the more Part of them having no other Thing to live upon, but only his Gain by [the Practice of] Attorneyship, and also the more Part of them not being of sufficient Knowledge to be an Attorney, which [come] to every Fair, Market, and other Places, where is any Assembly of People, exhorting, procuring, moving, and inciting the People to attempt untrue [and] foreign Suits, for small Trespasses, little Offences, and small Sums of Debt, whose Actions be triable and determinable in Court Barons; whereby proceed many Suits, more of evil Will and Malice, than of the Truth of the Thing, to the manifold Vexation and no little Damage of the Inhabitants of the said City and Counties, and also to the perpetual [Diminution] of all the Court Barons in the said Counties, unless convenient Remedy be provided in this Behalf.

Ordinance, 33 Hen. VI, ch. 7 (1455).  The Ordinance was enforced through a qui tam action by private citizens against any person who acted as a lawyer without proper admission to the King’s courts.

I could provide many more examples of historical qui tam actions, but I have a faire to get to!

I am heavily indebted to the following resources for the above blog post, which also provide great further reading!

  • R. Beck, The False Claims Act and the English Eradication of Qui Tam Legislation, 78 N.C. L. Rev. 539 (2000), available at: http://scholarship.law.unc.edu/nclr/vol78/iss3/2
  • Jonathon Rose, Medieval Attitudes Toward the legal Profession: The Past as Prologue, 28 Stetson L. Rev. 345 (1998),

available at  https://www.stetson.edu/law/lawreview/media/medieval-attitudes-toward-the-legal-profession-the-past-as-prologue.pdf

  • Middle English Compendium, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/middle-english-dictionary
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Photo of Colin W. Walsh Colin W. Walsh

We asked Colin W. Walsh, an experienced Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Rob Wiley, P.C., to impart his candid answers to a range of questions.   After reading, you will be more more informed on the well-respected reputation that Mr. Walsh 

We asked Colin W. Walsh, an experienced Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Rob Wiley, P.C., to impart his candid answers to a range of questions.   After reading, you will be more more informed on the well-respected reputation that Mr. Walsh carries.

1. What do you like most about being an employment lawyer?

I enjoy getting tangible results for my clients and being involved in an area of law that affects everybody every day.

2. What is the most important issue to you of being an advocate?

One of the most important issues to me as an advocate is to not only zealously represent my clients, but also the law.

3. What kind of clients do you like best?

I like the clients that I am able to help who were not able to find help elsewhere.  On a couple of occasions now, a client has told me that my firm is the first one that has listened to his or her issue and offered any kind of assistance.

4. What do you think is the most important part of a good case?

The client.  If the client is not invested, then the other side won’t take it seriously and neither will the jury.

5. What labor and employment issues do you think are currently trending?

The biggest employment discrimination issues I see right now are related to age, disability, and pregnancy discrimination.  For some reason, these types of discrimination seem to be acceptable to employers.  The other issues right now are minimum wage and overtime pay.

6. Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?

Justice William Brennan.

7. What would you say to HR of a company about how to treat employees?

It would be to listen to your employees.  Most employees are not looking to sue when he or she goes to Human Resources.  These employees are sincerely looking for help.  Nothing makes an employee seek legal counsel like when he or she complains about something and HR starts investigating the employee instead of the complaint.

8. Besides Rob Wiley, P.C., what is the most interesting job that you have had?

The most interesting job I’ve had is working as an extra in film and television.  I should have known that I was destined to be a lawyer at that point because two of my biggest gigs were the TV show “Boston Legal” and the film Charlie Wilson’s War.

9. What is your favorite food?

Meat pies.  I first discovered them when I studied abroad in undergrad.  I can’t believe these have not caught on in the U.S. because they are brilliant.

10. What’s the best part of living in Austin?

All of the outdoor festivals.  And the Longhorns.

Colin W. Walsh is a Trial Attorney in the Austin office of Rob Wiley, P.C.  He graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in theatre in 2006.  Mr. Walsh then graduated from The University of Texas School of Law with honors in 2011.