The federal judge presiding over a six-year-old special education class action suit against the District lambasted city attorneys this week for “repeated, flagrant and unrepentant failures to comply with Court orders” in handling pre-trial discovery.
The class action, D.L. v. District of Columbia, alleges that the city has failed to identify, locate and evaluate preschool-age special needs children to offer them “a free and appropriate” public education as required by federal law. It was finally due to go to trial April 6. That was when attorneys for Terris, Pralik and Millan, the firm representing the children allegedly overlooked, told U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth that the city continued to flood them with thousands of e-mails in the days leading up to trial and said it would continue to do so on a “rolling” basis even after the trial ended. The trial went forward and concluded on April 7. Lamberth has yet to rule.
Plaintiffs asked Lamberth to force the District to produce all the e-mails within one week of the close of trial. Lamberth agreed, and in a scathing opinion issued Monday--and first reported Tuesday by Legal Times--denied the city’s request to reconsider.
“Imagine a standup comic who delivers the punch-lines of his jokes first, a plane with landing gear that deploys just after touchdown, or a stick of dynamite with a unique fuse that ignites only after it explodes. That’s what document production after trial is like--it defeats the purpose,” Lamberth said. “A discovery violation of this exotic magnitude is literally unheard of in this court.” Lamberth said the District’s approach to discovery in the case has been “corrupt” dating back to 2008.
Ariel Waldman, senior counsel to D.C. Attorney General Irvin B.Nathan, declined to comment because it is a pending matter.
At the April 6 hearing, a District lawyer explained that the D.C. Attorney General’s office was understaffed, and that discovery obligations in the case were voluminous. She also said the District didn’t know it was going to fail to complete the review process before trial and saw no need to inform the court of ongoing discovery. Lamberth wasn’t buying it.
“First, the District has absolutely no excuse for its behavior in this case,” Lamberth wrote. “It knew of its discovery obligations and it knew how to file for a motion for extension of time.”