A retired District of Columbia Superior Court judge has lost her lawsuit against the city and the federal government over their handling of her retirement benefits.
In an opinion (PDF) published on Friday, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon found that Judge Odessa Vincent, who retired in April 2010, failed to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit in November 2011. Her benefits were sorted out in the months after she filed suit, and Leon criticized her for taking a "litigate first" approach.
In a phone interview today, Vincent's lawyer, Micah Salb of Lippman, Semsker & Salb in Bethesda, Md., disputed Leon's version of events and said Vincent did go through administrative channels for two years. "Before we filed suit, we worked very hard to get the government's attention to get them to find a solution to their problem, which is [that] they were not paying Judge Vincent the pension benefits that she had earned during her service," Salb said.
Vincent sued the city, the court and the U.S. Department of Treasury, which administers the retirement fund for former judicial officers. She claimed that after she retired and claimed disability benefits, officials failed to include time she spent as a civilian working for the federal government in calculating her retirement salary.
Leon found that Vincent jumped the gun, noting that benefits officers issued decisions agreeing with Vincent's position several weeks after she filed her lawsuit. "Indeed, the absurdity of her filing this suit is evident when one looks at the progress of plaintiff's administrative case during the pendency of this case," Leon wrote.
Salb said that while the issues surrounding Vincent's benefits were eventually resolved, she is weighing whether to appeal Leon's decision. Salb said that Vincent felt forced to file suit because of the government's inaction, and that "the law does not require the excessive waiting and delay and inaction by the government before permitting a suit to move forward."
Vincent was a longtime federal prosecutor before she was sworn in to the bench in September 2002. She served as an assistant U.S. attorney, as an attorney with the Drug Enforcement Administration, as a trial attorney and deputy chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division, and later, as chief of the U.S. attorney's office's narcotics section.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, William Miller, and a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, Ted Gest, declined to comment. The court, through spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz, also declined to comment.