About 200 lawyers who represent poor people in D.C. Superior Court failed to report yesterday for assignments, but law students and attorneys opposed to their colleagues strike stepped in to fill the breach.
By noon yesterday, 31 persons had signed up for the 58 new cases that entered the court system, according to Judge Tim Murphy, head of the court's misdemeanor trial section.
"We normally have between 35 and 40 regular lawyers to sign up, today we had only eight," Murphy said. "We usually have about six law students. We have that many today."
Murphy said he had requested help from several major law firms -- including Hogan & Hartson, Arnold & Porter, and Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering -- which promised they would make attorneys available.
In addition, Murphy said that the D.C. Bar had assigned an employe to coordinate a list of lawyers who would be available to take court appointments. c
"We had to double up on some appointments," Murphy added. "But generally speaking, the court ran smoothly today."
William Blair, vice president of the Superior Court Trial Lawyers Assoications, said he was "Disappointed" that the strike didn't have a greater impact.
"We don't want to shut down the court, we simply want to get the judges' attention," Blair said. "And we're not yet sure if the judges are listening."
A group of 67 attorneys who earn most of their income by representing indigent clients voted overwhelmingly Friday to go on strike against the court for one week. Their vote apparently was backed up by 130 attorneys who usually take such assignments but did not yesterday.
The lawyers decided to strike after they discovered that Murphy and five other judges were circulating a daily list of "inadequate lawyers" who were not to be assigned new cases.
In addition, the attorneys were concerned that they had not received pay checks for a month and had been barred from the court's law library.
The pay checks, which had not been printed because of computer problems, were sent out in the mail yesterday afternoon, according to court administrator Larry Polansky.
Thomas Gaye, a member of the lawyers association who said he is opposed to the strike, said he was appointed to five cases yesterday. Normally, he said, he would only have been appointed to one.
"I believe that the strike is a little premature," Gaye said. "I think a lot more can be accomplished by having the association negotiate with the court to solve some of our problems."
Another attorney, Phil Yaeger, said he had been appointed six weeks ago to appear in court and take cases in connection with a special court project. Yaeger, who was assigned to two cases yesterday as part of the project, said he would have been in violation of a court order had he gone on strike.
Attorney John Mercer, supervisor of the Howard University Criminal Justice Clinic, said four students from Howard Law School took court appointments yesterday.
"These are the same students who would have come to the court under any circumstances," Mercer said. "We believe that where there is a need for legal representation for black people, whe should always be there."
John H. Treanor Jr., president of the trial lawyers asociation, said he sent a note to Murphy yesterday morning, notifying the judge that he would be available to represent indigent defendants at bond hearings and in other emergencies if no other lawyer was available.
In a letter sent yesterday to Murphy and Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I. Treanor called the judges' list of incompetent attorneys "abhorrent and unfair" and asked that it no longer be used by the court.
Treanor suggested that the judges take allegations of incompetence to the D.C. Bar's Committee on Professional Responsibility.
"There is nothing we would appreciate more than a vigorous bar that would come down to court and seriously look into a judge's complaint against an attorney," Murphy said. "But traditionally, the bar has been very ineffective in its investigation of complaints about inadequate lawyers."