Some local federal judges are rather testy these days over job discrimination suits, blaming lawyers on both sides for cluttering the courts with unnecessary litigation.
Two weeks ago, U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Richey had some harsh words for federal prosecutors here who are trying to hold down legal fees the government must pay when it loses job discrimination suits.
Richey called some of tight-fisted Assistant U.S. Attorney Royce Lamberth's strategies to limit fees "ludicrous, ridiculous and patently absurd."
Lamberth opposes any fee claims over $65 an hour. That hourly rate, well below what larger firms charge clients for a new associate's time -- let alone the $150-an-hour-and-up rates most partners charge -- is tops as far as Lamberth is concerned.
Government lawyers even wanted Richey to order Steptoe & Johnson's Roger E. Warin and Roderic V.O. Boggs to turn over their time records and to hold a hearing on the number of hours they claimed they worked on the case.
Richey found that request "excessive" and counterproductive, since it would lead only to additional fees because the lawyers would charge for the time they spent litigating the fee award itself.
Richey found $65 an hour too low, although he did lop off $15 from the $115-an-hour request by Warin and Boggs. He also, without explanation, cut by 40 percent the hours they billed. The final award was nearly $47,000.
The U.S. Attorney's office, which often appeals awards that exceed the $65 limit -- and which has several, including some of Richey's, already on appeal -- hasn't decided whether to appeal the latest ruling.
But if Richey's opinion was something of a victory for civil rights lawyers, an opinion last week by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Malcolm R. Wilkey was a resounding loss.
Wilkey, joined in full by judges Carl McGowan and Patricia M. Wald, upheld a lower court ruling no race discrimination existed when a black woman microbiologist was fired from a private group health program. He also complained that the appeal had no business ever being filed.
The only thing proved in the first trial, he said, was that the woman was "hired, fired and that she was black."
"Frivolous suits such as the one brought here do not aid the cause of civil rights," Wilkey wrote. "On the contrary, they undermine the legitimate efforts of those bringing legitimate suits and draw scarce judicial resources away from those cases."
Then, in a move that several lawyers said was the first of its kind in this judicial circuit, Wilkey decided to put some teeth into his decision and issue a warning to others.
He declared that the woman would have to pay the winning group health program's legal fees as well. The winning lawyers have not had a chance to figure out the bill, but fees in similar cases often run to $20,000 and sometimes much more.
Even the highly touted GOP mailing lists sometimes come up short.
Imagine the surprise on Mrs. Georgia Legal Services' face two weeks ago when she received a personal letter from President Reagan, asking for a "generous contribution" to help the Republicans win a House majority in 1982.
There was even a "special memo" from Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Dear Mrs. Services," the memo began, offering her a "special memento of President Reagan's inauguration" if she contributed. (The memento is a photo of the inauguration.)
In an interview, Mrs. Services said she declined the offer because she feels Reagan doesn't appreciate her. The Legal Services Corp. already has laid off 25 percent of the staff in Washington as of Oct. 1. State programs have similar contingency plans. Even 25 percent is an optimistic projection of how far Congress may slice the budget next month when the lawmakers return -- assuming Reagan doesn't succeed in his goal of obliterating the program.
Maybe if Vander Jagt had offered a special set of steak knives. . .?
Covington & Burling, Washington's largest law firm with more than 200 lawyers and 400 other staff, made the big move recently from its not-too-shabby offices at 888 16th St. NW to its swank new offices at 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, where it will occupy six floors. The move even merited a press release from Office Movers Inc., which carried Covington to its new home.
Law firms would seem small-time stuff to Office Movers, which says it has hauled around whole libraries, museums, the entire innards of a 44-story building in Baltimore and once rounded up a herd of cattle that protesters left on the Mall.
Theodore R. Newman, chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals, has taken over as president of the board of directors of the National Center for State Courts. . .Paul Sanson has left the Antitrust Division at the Justice Department, where he was one of the ATT antitrust case trial lawyers, to join Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford. . . Jason I. Newman, a professor at Georgetown Law Center, has become counsel to Reuss McConville King & Green.
Delbert L. Spurlock Jr. has been appointed General Counsel of the Army. Spurlock, a 1967 graduate of Howard Law School, was in private practice in Sacramento before his appointment.
Just as the legal battling began earlier this month between lawyers for the air traffic controllers and the government, the Treasury was writing checks to some controllers to settle their last dispute -- a 1970 sickout where the FAA suspended workers who did not show up for their shifts.
The controllers won that one, thanks to a ruling by the federal appeals court here, so a dozen controllers in the Washington area were entitled to back pay awards averaging $1,600. U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker had ruled that the FAA erred in not granting hearings to consider the controllers' medical excuses. There are similar cases still pending in New York and Chicago.