U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr., never a man to mince words, directed a few choice remarks at the law firm of Berliner & Maloney and attorney Bruce Zagaris in a recent opinion.
The case involved an employment deal between Gloria Jean Banks of Maryland and Sheik Allal Al-Fassi of Saudia Arabia. The sheik wanted Banks to be the governness to the "Boy Prince Abdulahman." The sheik had promised Banks that life at the royal palace would be so grand that it "would make the White House look like the Ramada Inn."
Not so, says Banks, who sued the sheik for fraud, false imprisonment, assault, breach of contract and deprivation of constitutional rights. The problem was getting the sheik into court, of course, and there lies the basis for Judge Robinson's caustic comments.
"The exotic facts alleged in this action involving the royal family of Saudi Arabia are only paralleled by the exotic pleadings in which they are alleged," Robinson said in a written opinion.
"To put it bluntly," he followed in a footnote, "the original 44-page complaint and the amended 46-page complaint . . . resemble a pleading exercise in a law school civil procedure class. . . ." In the footnote, Robinson commented that lawyers for Banks had alleged every conceivable basis for jurisdiction and every conceivable claim for recovery, from involuntary servitude to copyright infringement.
" . . . Plaintiff's apparent strategy was to load the complaint with surplusage, leaving it to defendants and to the court to sort out the viable claims," Robinson said about what he later described in his opinion as the "grab-bag approach to this litigation." (The sheik, by the way, was represented by John A. Beck and Douglas K. Spaulding at Baker & Hostetler.)
In the end, the judge pared the case down to the bare bones: a portion of Banks' breach of contract claim and the civil rights conspiracy charge--both only as they pertain to acts in the District of Columbia. Zagaris declined to comment on the judge's remarks, noting the case is still in litigation.
The Air Force is going to have pay the legal bills racked up by Howry & Simon for its representation of Pentagon whistleblower A. Ernest Fitzgerald. And sources say the tab will be well into six figures.
Fitzgerald was fired by the Air Force 12 years ago--he claims for exposing cost overruns in the C5A transport program. In 1973, the Civil Service Commission told the Air Force either to give him his old job back or put him in a comparable position. Fitzgerald got a job, at the same grade level, but he complained he was merely a figurehead. He eventually took his protest to the U.S. District Court in Washington, and the local office of the ACLU persuaded Howry & Simon to help him out.
In March 1981, Judge William B. Bryant again ordered the Air Force to carry out the 1973 order. Last week, Bryant said in a 12-page opinion that Fitzgerald was owed attorney's fees as well because of Air Force officials' "bad faith flouting of a clear CSC mandate to restore Fitzgerald to an equivalent position. . . ."
Washington defense lawyer Kenneth Michael Robinson, acquitted of a contempt of court charge last week, still has the U.S. District Court Committee on Grievances to contend with. Judge Thomas A. Flannery, who cleared Robinson of the charge because the government failed to prove he actually intended to disrupt the court, said during a hearing last week that he planned to refer the case to the committee, which is chaired by Stephen A. Trimble.
The committee, composed of about a dozen lawyers who practice in the federal court, holds its own hearings and can reprimand, suspend or disbar lawyers who practice in the federal court, similar to action which can be taken by the D.C. Court of Appeals against local practitioners.
D.C. bar counsel Fred Grabowsky is waiting to receive a certified copy of the conviction of attorney William A. Borders Jr. on conspiracy to commit bribery, obstruction of justice and other charges last week in Atlanta. The notice will be forwarded immediately to the D.C. Court of Appeals which, by the court rules, must automatically suspend Borders from law practice because the jury found him guilty of a "serious crime." o further action can be taken against Borders until his appeals are final. But the court can ask the bar's Board on Professional Responsibility to determine whether Border's crimes involved "moral turpitude." If so, the court has said that the board must recommend disbarment.
In 1979, when the appeals court disbarred former White House aide Charles W. Colson, the judges ruled that the crime of obstruction of justice inherently involves moral turpitude. If the Colson standard is applied to Borders, the court has said in another opinion that the only way he could get his license back would be through a presidential pardon.
The D.C. Bar's court study committee, headed by Charles A. Horsky from Covington & Burling, has released its report on the criminal trial division at the D.C. Superior Court, the ninth and last in a series of studies on court operations. The committee has joined the growing crowd of experts who strongly recommend that local judges no longer have the power to cut vouchers submitted by court appointed lawyers. The committee proposed that a D.C. Criminal Defense Agency be set up to handle defense counsel appointment and compensation and supports "early attention" to the issue of increasing the pay scales for those lawyers.
Barbara M. Watson, former ambassador to Malaysia and assistant secretary of state, is now counsel to Italo H. Ablondi, P.C., and F. David Foster, former international trade counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, has become a member of the firm.