The strained relationship between the District of Columbia's Office of the Attorney General and U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth took another hit late last week when the city filed a motion (PDF) characterizing Lamberth's language in a recent opinion as "vituperative rhetoric."
Calling Lamberth's language "unjustified, defamatory, and injudicious," lawyers for the city on Friday asked Lamberth to strike the "inappropriate language" and reconsider sanctions ordered against the city for discovery violations. The motion was signed by Attorney General Irvin Nathan, Deputy Attorney General Ellen Efros and Grace Graham, chief of the equity section.
The motion was in response to an opinion Lamberth published on October 4 slamming city lawyers for violating a discovery order. He criticized the city's "dilatory, wasteful action" and accused them of asking the court "to enter an Orwellian world where all arguments are devoid of context, and all Court orders magically mean whatever the District wishes them to mean."
At the heart of the dispute is discovery that Lamberth authorized in a case dealing with whether a constitutional right exists to post signs on lampposts in Washington. Lamberth, in his opinion, said he had authorized limited discovery for the plaintiffs, but that the city took advantage of that order to conduct its own, unauthorized discovery.
In Friday's motion, though, Nathan and the other city attorneys argued that Lamberth's order didn't directly address the issue of discovery by the city. While it may have been "prudent" for city lawyers to ask Lamberth to clarify whether his order allowing limited discovery also applied to the District, they wrote, "the Court should not grant attorneys’ fees and costs as a sanction because there was no finding—nor could there be—by clear and convincing evidence of bad faith on the part of the District."
The attorney general's office criticized Lamberth for suggesting that city lawyers acted dishonestly and requested that the judge strike such language from the record. Citing a passage from Lamberth's opinion where the judge warned the city that its behavior could jeopardize future good relations with the court, city lawyers countered that Lamberth bore some responsibility for maintaining that relationship as well.
"That needed trust is a two-way street, and it is jeopardized when flamboyant, unjustified language—which could easily be foreseen to make its way into the press—is hurled by a respected jurist against honest, hard-working dedicated lawyers who are simply doing their best to serve the citizens of the District," the attorney general's office argued.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office, Ted Gest, declined to comment.
This isn't the first time that Lamberth and the city's lawyers have sparred over the city's conduct in court. Last May, Lamberth had strong words for the attorney general's office, accusing lawyers of committing discovery violations "so extreme as to be literally unheard of."
If Lamberth denies the motion, the attorney general's office has asked the court to delay the sanctions so that the city has time to appeal.