In 1980, an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington signed off on a response brief in a workers' compensation case pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
That assistant U.S. attorney, U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, took over the case docket in December following the retirement of U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. Lamberth didn't remember being involved in the matter 30-plus years ago, but may have to vacate decisions he made over the past few months because of it.
In an order (PDF) filed yesterday, Lamberth responded to a motion (PDF) filed by the plaintiff, Earl Davis, asking that Lamberth be disqualified from the case. Lamberth wrote that he "had no recollection of having any involvement with this case over 32 years ago," but said Davis was right to ask for his disqualification.
Lamberth wrote that because case files are only available electronically going back to 1999, he didn’t receive the full docket from the clerk’s archives until after he had already issued a ruling in February that resolved several remaining disputes and terminated the case. The case was filed in 1979.
The February decision is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which means Lamberth no longer has jurisdiction over the case and can’t rule on the latest motion to disqualify. If the case is remanded back from the D.C. Circuit, though, Lamberth said he would disqualify himself and reassign the case, meaning his previous orders and opinions would be vacated.
Davis, in a phone interview today, said he didn’t remember Lamberth’s role in the case either until he was going over files from the early days of the case and saw Lamberth’s name. The U.S. attorney’s office had been involved because Davis sued the U.S. Department of Labor, in addition to his private employer. At issue now is a series of disputes between Davis and his insurance company over requests for reimbursement.
Davis added that he thought Lamberth should have considered a possible conflict when he took over the case, given the year it was filed, but said he thought Lamberth’s position on the issue was “reasonable.”