A group of Washington lawyers filed a class-action suit in federal court here yesterday seeking to stop D.C. Superior Court officials from allegedly forcing them to represent without pay parents accused of child abuse.
The lawyers, who are asking for $7.2 million in damages, say in court papers that they are kept "in a state of involuntary servitude" and are coerced into accepting unpaid court assignments in order to receive other assignments for which they are paid by the city.
City law requires that lawyers be appointed to represent both parties in child abuse or neglect cases, but no money has ever been appropriated to pay lawyers to represent indigent parents accused of child abuse. Children who are victims of abuse or neglect are usually represented by volunteer attorneys or the District government.
The attorneys are members of the Family Division Trial Lawyers Association, who normally are paid by the city to represent delinquent youths in Superior Court.
David J. Ontell, an attorney representing the lawyers, said efforts to negotiate a solution with Superior Court officials have failed.
"These people are tired of getting kicked in the teeth," Ontell said. "We've talked and talked and talked and run out of talk."