More than a month after a Washington federal court jury sided with city resident Lindsay Huthnance in a false arrest lawsuit against the city, the two sides are continuing to duke it out over a request for sanctions that Huthnance’s attorneys filed before the trial began in early March.
The city attorney general’s office also filed a motion yesterday indicating its plans to pursue requests for judgment, a new trial or remittitur, although it has yet so specify on what grounds.
Huthnance had sued a group of Washington police officers over her November 2005 arrest, claiming they arrested her on a trumped-up disorderly conduct charge in retaliation for publicly criticizing them. She also named the city as a defendant, claiming it was responsible for failing to properly train officers and take steps to stop unlawful “contempt-of-cop” arrests.
On March 25, the jury found the city and two officers who arrested Huthnance liable for $97,500 in damages for false arrest, emotional distress and a slew of constitutional violations she had claimed were committed in the course of her arrest and imprisonment; a third officer was not found liable. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth entered the judgment on March 31.
The day before the trial was scheduled to begin on a Monday, March 7, Huthnance’s attorneys filed an emergency motion (PDF) to strike amendments to discovery responses the city’s attorneys had submitted on Saturday, as well as the city’s notice that it intended to amend its exhibit list.
Calling the move a “Hail Mary” pass, Huthnance’s attorneys asked the court to not only strike the documents, but also to impose sanctions on the city’s attorneys for the “eve-of-trial attempts to ambush Plaintiff.” Lamberth granted the request (PDF) to strike, but held off on making a decision on sanctions until after trial.
Jeffrey Skinner of Goodwin Procter, who represented Huthnance, said he believes the city has a history of engaging in problematic legal behavior that merits sanctions.
“Time after time this happens, even though they get these bad opinions, nothing happens,” Skinner said in a phone interview this afternoon.
Ariel Waldman, senior counsel to the attorney general, has declined to comment on the case.
The city asked the court on Monday for permission to file its response to the sanctions issue. According to a copy of the response (PDF) that was filed with the request, the city plans to argue that Huthnance lacks legal authority to request sanctions against the attorneys personally and also that the attorneys in question did not act in bad faith in making the last-minute submissions.
“Trial counsels were in the unenviable position of learning information just prior to trial that contradicted earlier responses that they were uninvolved in preparing,” the city argues. “Counsels believed both that they had a duty to the Court and plaintiff to supplement incorrect answers and a duty to their clients to ensure that they were not found liable based on information that counsels believed to be incorrect.”
Yesterday, the city also submitted a consent motion (PDF) to the court indicting it planned to file a memorandum in support of three motions for judgment, a new trial or remittitur in a single document exceeding the 45-page limit by about five pages. Skinner said he had agreed to the city's request to exceed the page limit, but said he hasn’t gotten any indication on what the city plans to argue.
Huthnance is also being represented by Goodwin Procter attorneys Andrew Hudson and John Moustakas, with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital.