A federal judge told lawyers for both sides yesterday they had hopelessly muddled a lawsuit in which Alexandria Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel was found to have violated the civil rights of two city police officers.
"Strangers on this planet would say that the world is insane when lawyers manage their business the way this bunch did," District Judge Richard L. Williams said. Williams then awarded $42,938 in legal fees to attorneys representing Alexandria police officers Joseph Morrash and Morton Ford -- less than a quarter of the $175,000 they sought.
The fees are to be paid by the city's insurance carrier.
Williams also gave the city 60 days to restore Ford to his previous position as a sergeant in the vice-narcotics squad of the police department. Morrash was reinstated as an investigator in November after an arbitration panel decided his transfer was punitive.
Judge Williams, 62, who has been reassigned to federal court in Richmond at his request, marked his final regular appearance on the Alexandria bench yesterday with the blunt verbal style and down-home declarations that have made watching him work a hobby for many lawyers.
"You did everything except what lawyers ought to do -- which is be objective," Williams told the attorneys in a gruff voice filled with dismay. "You all got out of hand and that is the curse of this case."
Last month, a jury awarded Morrash and Ford $15,000 in damages after finding that Strobel had violated the officers' rights when he transferred them from investigative to patrol duties in retaliation for their 1983 efforts to investigate a superior, Lt. John Stedman, then head of the department's internal affairs section. Strobel has appealed the decision.
Williams has repeatedly shown displeasure with what he has called the heatedly emotional and political nature of the lawsuit.
Yesterday, as lawyers for both sides tried to get in one more argument, Williams began his criticisms slowly. ("Bear in mind," he told the plaintiffs' lawyer as he began to recount particulars of the trial, "I'm no stranger to this case.")
Explaining why he had decided the lawyers did not deserve fees for the 901 hours they claimed they had worked ("That would be 112 full-time working days on a very simple case," he said), Williams built to a crescendo of disbelief.
"Here you are, before me today in your final lemming-like dive over the cliffs into the sea," he said before setting the lawyers' fees. "This was never anything more than a retaliation case. You couldn't design a simpler case."
Morrash and Ford contended Strobel did not pursue their allegations that Stedman, currently on leave, was involved in sexual misconduct with a teen-age boy seven or eight years ago. Strobel testified at the two-day trial last month that he had interviewed the alleged victim and Stedman and both had denied the incident occurred.
In arguing yesterday that the court should permanently enjoin Strobel from future violations of the officers' rights, one of the officers' lawyers, Robert Borax, said Strobel had shown "a display of unremitting bad judgment." Williams denied the motion, saying he thought Strobel's actions were a "one shot deal."
He told the assembled crowd in the courtroom, "This is my last day in Alexandria. And my final good advice to you is to bury this fast and get on to better things."