The District's Superior Court trial lawyers, who went on strike yesterday to protest their alleged unfair treatment in court by some judges, said the first day of their strike was a success, despite the fact that court-appointed lawyers were assigned to all 65 indigents who asked for them.
The 160-member D.C. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association claimed success because only five of its members appeared at the court to accept new cases. The 65 criminal cases were assigned to those five lawyers, to five private attorneys and to lawyers representing the Public Defender Service. Usually 35 to 40 private lawyers ask to take the cases each day.
The lawyers' association called the strike Thursday to protest the strict courtroom policies of Judge Tim Murphy, who in recent weeks has sentenced two attorneys to jail terms for being tardy for appearances in his court.
At least four judges also have cited a number of attorneys for arriving late, but in most of those instances, attorneys have received only stern warnings and modest fines, the lawyers say.
Thirty members of the association met yesterday and drew up a list of grievances, including a demand that Murphy step down as the head of the court's criminal division.
In addition, the lawyers demanded that judges no longer be able to hold attorneys in contempt of court for unintentional tardiness without holding a hearing on the issue. They also asked that misdemeanor trials be scheduled in a more flexible manner and that lawyers not be jailed when they are late.
Several lawyers took turns yesterday carrying placards on a three-person picket line. One sign said, "Free the Superior Court Lawyers" and another demanded, "No Jail for Lawyers."
At one point, attorney James Tatem's 10-year-old son Paul carried his father's picket sign. Tatem disappeared from the line into the courthouse, announcing to his colleagues that he didn't want to be late for a court appearance.
Three attorneys met with Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I yesterday afternoon, and emerged from the meeting optimistic that some of their grievances will be taken care of immediately.
"Judge Moultrie was very candid and sincere in his meeting with us," said Wallace E. Shipp Jr., vice president of the lawyers association. "He said he will take our demands under consideration. We feel confident that we can work out agreeable solutions in most cases."
Attorney J. Girard Lewis, who also met with Moultrie, said he was impressed with the "level of the judge's concern" and therefore will ask his fellow striking lawyers to call off the strike Monday.
"It appears that Judge Moultrie is already planning to accede to some of our demands," Lewis said. "I don't think a prolonged strike is necessary."
In the meeting, Lewis said Moultrie agreed to discuss with the court's board of judges a plan to establish a central calling system for attorney's who expect to be late for a court appearance and a possible agreement with judges not to hold lawyers in contempt if they sign in with one judge before leaving to check in with another.
But Shipp said that Moultrie refused to consider changing Murphy's assignment.