Responding to criticism from U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, the city attorney general's office filed a notice (PDF) this morning defending its behavior in an ongoing police misconduct case.
Lamberth, in a June 22 ruling (PDF), said he believed the attorney general's office had a bad habit of switching lead counsel before trial and then using the line-up change to defend against challenges to how it handles litigation.
The attorney general's office has denied that such changes are a litigation tactic.
In the underlying case, the plaintiff, Lindsay Huthnance, requested sanctions against the attorney general’s office for producing discovery the weekend before her trial began in early March. Huthnance sued the city and several local police officers over her 2005 arrest, claiming they unlawfully arrested her for publicly criticizing them.
The attorney general’s office responded that any mistakes were made in good faith by previous counsel during case preparation, and also that the lead counsel had to leave for a medical emergency. They argued that it would not be fair to penalize the current attorneys for mistakes made in the past.
Lamberth sided with the city, but just barely. He denied the sanctions request, but said he believes the attorney general’s office too often has switched lead counsel leading up to trial. Lamberth told the office to be on notice that its defense “will grow weaker and weaker over time as this disappointing drama repeats.”
This morning, the attorney general’s office responded with a two-page notice disputing Lamberth’s allegations that it switches lead counsel as a strategic move.
“The District wishes to make clear that it has never sought to change trial counsel to gain litigation advantage and it will not do so in the future,” they wrote. “Prior trial counsel’s withdrawal was required by compelling and unanticipated circumstances — his unexpected hospitalization and need to attend to a serious health condition, as explained in detail to the Court ex parte on November 10, 2010.”
The attorney general's office has declined to comment on the pending litigation.
A jury sided with Huthnance on March 25, finding the city and two officers who arrested Huthnance were liable for $97,500 in damages for false arrest, emotional distress and a slew of constitutional violations committed in the course of her arrest and imprisonment.
The city has pending motions for a judgment or a new trial, as well as for remittitur, arguing that, “the jury‘s verdict was excessive, not supported by the trial evidence, and otherwise shocks the conscience.”