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Legal Times: Federal Judge Slams D.C. Lawyers for ‘Orwellian’ Worldview

Reprint By Zoe Tillman, Legal Times Blog

Criticizing the D.C. Office of the Attorney General’s “dilatory, wasteful action,” U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth published an opinion yesterday blasting city attorneys for violating a discovery order.

According to the opinion, Lamberth had authorized limited discovery by plaintiffs in a constitutional fight over the right to post signs on lampposts in Washington. Lamberth wrote that even though he didn’t give the city permission to do discovery, the attorney general’s office went ahead with interrogatories and a request for documents. The plaintiffs requested a protective order to stop the city, which he granted.

“Given the history of this litigation, the District’s position and arguments are as untenable as they are ridiculous,” Lamberth wrote. “Defendant asks this 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. The Court rejects this invitation.”

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office, Ted Gest, said his office is reviewing the ruling. Lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice, said today that the city’s “conduct and scorched earth strategy is a huge waste of judicial resources and taxpayer money.” She called on the attorney general’s office “to stop what appears to be an institutional, cultural response that allows this to go on.” 

Yesterday’s ruling wasn’t the first time the attorney general’s office has come under fire for discovery-related issues. Last May, Lamberth accused the District of discovery violations “so extreme as to be literally unheard of” in another case. In his latest opinion, Lamberth warned the city that these type of incidents “undermine public confidence in government and damage the informal institutional relationship” between the city and the court.

“Like two old neighbors, our offices are located a stone’s throw from each other. Our personnel interact daily,” Lamberth wrote, adding that, “An amicable relationship—beneficial to all parties—is preferred but not preordained. It can only exist and endure when each party trusts the other. And that trust is undermined when OAG attorneys submit pleadings that invert reality and make arguments for the sake of argument.”

Lamberth called the city’s position “disingenuous” and the fact that they accused the plaintiffs of making unsupported arguments “the definition of irony.” In a nod to popular culture, he offered a footnote explaining that his definition of irony was correct, unlike singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette in her 1995 song, “Ironic,” which he wrote “inexplicably” defined irony as “rain on your wedding day.”

“Our legal system is built and maintained on a fragile foundation of trust: trust between clients and counselors, between counselors and Courts, between Courts and the public, and between the public and public servants,” Lamberth wrote. “Pleadings like the District’s Opposition, which present the Court with baseless arguments that fly in the face of reality and common sense, serve only to undermine that trust.”