WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawyers for the D.C. government should be sanctioned for their handling of evidence in a case arising from the mass arrests of demonstrators in a 2002 protest, attorneys for some of those arrested have told a judge.
The plaintiffs' attorneys say D.C. officials destroyed evidence, mishandled it or failed to produce it, and that multiple lawyers should be referred to the D.C. Bar to be investigated for "ethical violations." They say a judge also should consider referring D.C. attorney general Irvin Nathan for "his failure to supervise the ethical practices of his line attorneys, and his proclaimed satisfaction with their conduct in this case."
The recommendations were included in court filings submitted late Tuesday to a federal magistrate investigating allegations of evidence tampering in the case, which stems from the arrests of about 400 demonstrators during the September 2002 meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The attorneys also ask a judge to enter a default judgment against the government and to impose compensatory costs.
The suggestions are the strongest calls to date for punishment for attorneys, including the police department's general counsel, who have been involved in a case that's dragged on for the last decade. The plaintiffs' lawyers also directly target Nathan, the D.C. government's top lawyer, accusing him of failing to accept responsibility for delays in the case and for "discovery abuses" by his subordinates.
The attorney general's office, in a separate filing, denies that its lawyers engaged in misconduct and say no evidence was ever destroyed or intentionally concealed. They say there are no grounds for sanctions.
"This office will not dignify the baseless allegations made by plaintiffs' counsel," Ted Gest, a spokesman for the office, said in a statement, adding that the office would file its own response in court. "We do note, however, that their relentless ad hominem attacks continue despite a complete absence of any proof that any evidence was destroyed or altered or that our lawyers acted inappropriately in any way."
Most claims arising from the arrests, in which demonstrators were corralled in a city park and in many cases tied from wrist-to-ankle, have been resolved through a multi-million-dollar settlement.
But several former George Washington University students remain as plaintiffs, and their lawyers allege that D.C. officials submitted false statements, failed to turn over video recordings of the demonstrations, produced incomplete and edited audiotapes and that a police department employee or contractor tried to delete an electronic log, known as a "running resume," of police communications and commands given during the demonstrations. The attorney general's office waited about two months to alert a judge that a contractor had detected an effort to delete electronic evidence.
The plaintiffs' lawyers believe that the evidence, taken together, is significant because it could help establish who in the police department ordered the arrests. They argue that then-Chief Charles Ramsey ordered the arrests, while assistant Chief Peter Newsham has said he gave the order. They say the government's representations about the missing evidence cannot be considered a simple mistake.
"Instead," the plaintiffs' lawyers wrote, "they suggest an intentional effort to cover-up evidence and obstruct the progress of this case."
The attorney general's office says no one tried to delete the "running resume." The lawyers say a contractor who used the word "delete" had been misinterpreted and was able to recover all of the data because nothing had been lost. The material was turned over to the plaintiffs two years ago, and any delay in finding and producing it did not prejudice the defendants, the government said.