Six judges of the D.C. Superior Court have circulated a list naming several lawyers who the judges have concluded are inadequate and should not serve as court-appointed counsel in the city court.
Judge Tim Murphy, who heads the criminal misdemeanor section of the court, and five other judges met Monday and agreed to circulate the list of names because some court-appointed attorneys have been doing what the judges consider inadequate work. The list will be updated daily, Murphy said.
News of the list has created a furor among the hundreds of lawyers who are regularly paid by the city to represent poor people charged with crimes.
In response to the list and other grievances about alleged delays in payment for legal work, a group of the lawyers yesterday voted overwhelmingly to stage a wildcat strike beginning next Monday. The strike could leave the judges without lawyers to appoint to new cases.
Judge Murphy yesterday defended the list. "I firmly believe that a lawyer who has demonstrated that he cannot adequately represent his client should not receive another case in this court. We can't force another judge not to appoint that lawyer. But we hope that the list of names will be taken into consideration."
Murphy said that a lawyer can expect to be placed on the list for failure to appear in court on time, failure to file required court papers on time, and failure to hold conferences with preosecutors before the scheduled day of trial.
There is a group of about 200 lawyers who receive the bulk of their earnings from court-appointed cases.
Under the city's Criminal Justice Act Program, created eight years ago to ensure legal services for the poor, attorneys earn $20 an hour for out-of-court work and $30 an hour for time spent in the courtroom.
Jerry Dier, president-elect of the Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association, said that he has no objection to the list.
"But this is not a one-way street," Dier said. "Sometimes one judge will order us not to leave his courtroom when we are scheduled at the same time to be before another judge.
"We can't have conferences with the prosecutor if the prosecutor is not available to meet with us," Dier added. "There is no way we can have a conference with our clients if we do not know how to locate our clients -- which is often the case.
"My concern is that if a lawyer is going to be named on a list, there has to be some kind of proceeding where the lawyer can appear and tell his side of what happened," Dier said.
According to Murphy, laywers who find that they are on the list will be given an opportunity to defend themselves by the judge who listed them. If that judge is satisfied with the explanation, the attorney's name will be removed from the list, Murphy said.
Murphy said the daily list will be available only to the three judges in charge of traffic cases, preliminary hearings and arraignments. Attorneys who notice that they are not receiving appointments to new cases must check to determine if they are listed as "inadequate," Murphy said.
James Bailey, 62, who said he had not been appointed to a new case for 10 days, went Monday to Judge Henry Kennedy, who is currently assigned to arraignment court, to ask why.
"The judge told me I hadn't received any new cases because my name was on 'the list'," said Bailey. "I asked him what list, and he showed me a sheet of paper three quarters filled with names."
Murphy said the list referred to by Bailey contained 52 names, but only 8 to 10 of them were considered to be inadequate.
Steven Pollak, president-elect of the D.C. Bar, said he was not familiar with the judges' plan for listing allegedly inadequate attorneys. "However, I believe the judges sould attempt to maintain the highest standards of legal representation possible," Pollak said. "I believe that lawyers who are not prepared to practice in the courts should be identified."
"The basic problem in this court is that we have 45 sets of rules," said lawyer Robert Greenspan. "The set of rules is established by the court and 44 other sets of rules are established by each judge. It's very difficult to abide by one rule without breaking another."
Greenspan said judges frequently schedule cases on an attorney's calendar without notifying the attorney. And, he said, it is often difficult to arrange a conference with government prosecutors within the time allotted by the court.
"There is no question that everyone in the court -- including the judges -- makes an occasional mistake," Greenspan added. "The difference is that court-appointed attorneys can be put on a list and possibly cut off from their livelihood."
"Nothing is going to happen to the lawyer who is in the courtroom in time and gives his client adequate representation," said Murphy.
"The attorneys we're going to list are the ones who show up for court late or not at all, who can't be located by the court or their clients, and who are not prepared when they come to trial," the judge said.
"We've got a lot of excellent lawyers in this court and there is no need to appoint inadequate ones," Murphy added. "As far as I'm concerned, the inadequate attorneys are going to be squeezed out of this court system."
Sixty-seven lawyers, upset with the list and a variety of problems connected with their law practice at Superior Court, met in the court's lawyers lounge yesterday and voted to strike against the court for a week beginning Monday.
Currently between 40 and 80 new cases come into the court system each day, although there is usually a daily list of fewer than 60 lawyers who are available for appointments, according to court officials.
Attorney William Blair, representing the lawyers as the head of a loosely organized "strike committee," said grievances expressed by them yesterday included the fact that court-appointed lawyers have not been paid by the city since Jan. 4, and that defense attorneys have been barred from the court's library.
"The major issue that brought about the strike is not money. We know we'll be paid sooner or later," said Blair. "But I think what most attorneys are fed up with is the attitudes of the judges who treat us like school kids, not professionals."