A federal judge here yesterday slapped a $105,765 judgment against a former Washington lawyer for "reprehensible and intentionally malicious" fraud against a client pressing an employment discrimination case against the General Services Administration.
U.S. District Court Judge Harold H. Greene found that Craig T Sawyer, who resigned from the District Bar earlier this year, did little to represent GSA mechanic Riley Pointer, 55, and then fabricated a document purporting to show Pointer had won an out-of-court settlement that included a promotion and back pay.
Greene said that Pointer, who serviced GSA air conditioning and heating systems until his retirement in late 1977, suffered actual damages of only $765 - part of the retainer he paid Sawyer - and "mental anguish, damage to his reputation and humiliation as a result of [Sawyer's] actions in the amount of $5,000."
The judge also awarded $100,000 in punitive damages "in view of the reprehensible and intentionally malicious nature of [Sawyer's] acts. It is impossible to justifify the kind of conduct [Sawyer], an attorney, engaged in with respect to these matters, and he has not in fact sought to justify them."
Sawyer, who declined comment on the case yesterday, did not appear at two recent hearings Greene held in the case, although he has filed a motion seeking to overturn the judgement against him.
The D.C. Bar's Board of Professional Responsibility recommended earlier this year that Sawyer be disbarred for his failure to file a suit, after he said he would, seeking to place the name of Eugene McCarthy on the 1976 presidential ballot in Maryland. The board said Sawyer then told McCarthy aides that he had won the case. Sawyer resigned from the bar before a scheduled hearing on that possible disbarment.
Jeffrey Lee Greenspan, Pointer's lawyer in yesterday's suit, said he filed the suit against Sawyer not so much for damages as to uphold the name of the legal profession.
"Lawyers have gotten a bad enough reputation for things they did and didn't do in Watergate," Greenspan said. "Guys like Craig Sawyer don't just give the profession a black eye, but two black eyes, a broken nose and chipped teeth."
According to his suit, Pointer, who is black, hired Sawyer in July 1972 to bring a suit on behalf of himself and other GSA workers against the GSA administrator, alleging employment discrimination.
The GSA workers paid Sawyer $2,000. The lawyer filed that suit and later asked a court to have the GSA workers declared a "class" in an effort to win damages for them as a group.
But after much delay, GSA administrator Arthur Sampson moved in early 1977 to dismiss Pointer's suit because it had not been prosecuted. According to Greene's ruling, Sawyer neither opposed the motion nor notified his clients of the adverse action.
While this legal proceeding was limping through the federal courthouse here, Pointer retained Sawyer to file a separate discrimination suit on his behalf alone. Sawyer told Pointer that he had filed the suit but never did, according to Greene.
Instead, in June 1977, Sawyer gave Pointer a legal-looking document entitled "stipulation of dismissal," purporting to claim that Pointer's suit had been settled out of court by GSA and that Pointer had won a promotion and back pay.
The document was signed by Sawyer and Pointer and also purportedly by Asistant U.S. Attorney Jay Dugan and an "authorized representative" of GSA named Dennis Almond. As it turned, Dugan never saw the document and Almond does not exist.