A Washington lawyer and former judicial officer who has been in jail for more than a month for contempt will remain behind bars after appearing this afternoon before a District of Columbia Superior Court judge.
George Crawford was incarcerated on April 15th for the second time since late 2012 for failing to pay court-ordered sanctions in a civil lawsuit over unpaid loans. Following closed-door settlement talks today that lawyers later characterized in court as unsuccessful, Judge Gregory Jackson sent Crawford back to jail. The parties are scheduled to return to court to update Jackson on any progress on May 30.
Crawford's attorney, Washington solo practitioner Leonard Long Jr., declined to comment. Lead counsel for plaintiff First Washington Insurance Company, Stephen Neal Jr. of Alexandria, Va.'s DiMuroGinsberg, also declined to comment.
Crawford, a member of the D.C. Bar since 1980 with no disciplinary history, owes $123,000 in sanctions. In the underlying case, he owes a $1.15 million judgment.
Until he was fired in late December, Crawford was the chief administrative law judge for the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. He has a long history of public service, serving in the past as general counsel and interim chair of the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission. He also had a private practice, according to court filings.
Crawford was sued in 2007 along with several other defendants for allegedly breaching loan promissory notes. A Superior Court judge previously assigned to the case entered a $1.15 million judgment against Crawford. Following mediation, though, Crawford and First Washington reached a settlement, in which Crawford agreed to pay $10,000 over three years.
According to court filings, Crawford refused to make payments on the settlement or turn over information about his assets and liabilities as required by the deal. The court ordered Crawford to pay $30,000 in sanctions and he was jailed for the first time on December 10 after failing to do so.
Crawford was released on December 21 after paying part of the sanctions and eventually paid the full amount. By that time, however, he owed an additional $123,000 in sanctions. On April 15, Jackson sent Crawford back to jail for failing to make "good-faith efforts" to pay. At an April 30 hearing, Jackson ordered him to stay in jail, over Crawford's objections that he couldn't afford the sanctions.
At the start of today's hearing, Neal told Jackson he received a "ludicrous" settlement offer several weeks after the April 30 hearing—his client rejected the terms when they were proposed at a previous hearing, he said—and then got a last-minute offer shortly before today's hearing that involved future promises of action but nothing concrete. "There's nothing on the table," he said.
Jackson spent approximately an hour meeting with lawyers on both sides, Crawford's family and Crawford in off-the-record meetings. After returning to the courtroom, Neal told Jackson he was glad to speak with Crawford's family, but there was no deal. "They just want to promise to do something in the future," he said.
Long and Crawford argued for release, saying it would be easier for Crawford to work towards drafting a proposal and making payments if he were free. Long said Crawford's family put several options on the table during the settlement talks for coming up with the money.
Jackson said given Crawford's history of noncompliance with court orders, he would keep Crawford in jail until he received something specific in writing. The judge noted Crawford had completed complicated legal work while behind bars, including attempts to appeal his incarceration. The judge said he had a responsibility to protect the integrity of the judicial system and that Crawford shared that responsibility as a member of the D.C. Bar.
"I do not take any pleasure in incarcerating Mr. Crawford," Jackson said, adding Crawford "holds the key to his jail cell and he always has. Indeed, this didn't have to happen. Nobody wanted it to happen. But we're now here."