As a D.C. federal magistrate judge continues his investigation into the alleged mishandling of evidence in a decade-old mass arrest case, the head of Washington's police union is raising questions about the city's reimbursement of legal fees for city officials involved.
In a letter (PDF) sent yesterday to the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann asked for an investigation into public compensation of private lawyers for defendants and other officials, now that U.S. District Magistrate Judge John Facciola's investigation has raised the specter of possible criminal activity.
Under the D.C. Code, the city can pay "reasonable" attorney fees for Metropolitan Police Department members facing a civil lawsuit for wrongful arrest. In an interview today, Baumann said that while the underlying matter is a civil case, Facciola's investigation is veering into issues such as whether police and other city officials committed perjury or submitted false information to the court.
"When you start looking at the amount of money the taxpayers are paying for this, particularly given the bad acts that have been unveiled, I don't think there's any rational explanation for why the taxpayers should be paying this," he said.
Plaintiffs' lawyers have estimated that the city has paid more than $2 million in compensation to private lawyers. Most recently, on January 25, the court approved a payment of $20,224 to Brown Rudnick for work on behalf of former police chief Charles Ramsey from April 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012.
The underlying case challenged arrests at Pershing Park in downtown Washington during mass protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in 2002. That case was put on hold as Facciola investigated allegations that police and other city officials mishandled evidence. The inquiry has included how city lawyers handled an electronic record of police activity during the 2002 arrests that was only recovered in May 2011.
In recent months, past and present lawyers for the District have been brought before Facciola to testify about the discovery of the electronic record, among other issues. On May 3, 2011, a technician informed city lawyers that he had recovered the data but noticed that someone had used a "delete" function. The "delete" function moved the file to another area in the system, but the technician had said he could still retrieve it. City lawyers didn't tell the court or plaintiffs about the so-called attempted "deletion" until July 12, 2011.
As part of Facciola's inquiry, city lawyers have been asked to explain why they waited to disclose the attempted deletion. Plaintiffs' lawyers and the court have also asked city lawyers about disclosures they made to the court about the status of investigations into the attempted deletion.
Two lawyers brought before Facciola in recent weeks retained outside counsel. Police department general counsel Terrence Ryan is being represented by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr partners Howard Shapiro and Jeannie Rhee, and senior associate John DeGenova. Monique Pressley, a former senior assistant attorney general, is being represented by Natalie Ludaway of Washington's Leftwich & Ludaway.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office, Ted Gest, said in an e-mail statement today that his office is "confident that there were no improprieties by any of our lawyers in this matter.”
Shapiro confirmed that his firm is representing Ryan pro bono. Although Ryan is the police department's general counsel, he is part of the attorney general's office. Ludaway confirmed she is representing Pressley pro bono as well.
"We are extremely fortunate that the public spirited outside counsel who have advised our lawyers have agreed to handle these matters on a pro bono basis, so there has been no charge to the District," Gest said.
A lead attorney for the plaintiffs, George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley, declined to comment.
Facciola last heard testimony on January 11, but is expected to resume hearings at a later date. On January 27, the plaintiffs submitted a list of proposed topics for current police Chief Cathy Lanier.