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Lawyers Sanction for Delays in D.C. Class Suit

(CN) - Two lawyers owe monetary sanctions after failing to timely produce a number of documents for discovery in a wrongful-termination class action, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington, D.C., said Wednesday that attorneys David Rose and Donald Temple "missed or ignored discovery deadlines, [had] not provided appropriate documentation or answers to discovery requests, and generally failed to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure."

Rose and Temple represent Ronda Davis and other former employees of the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency who allege they were fired "as part of a discriminatory reduction in force - namely, that the agency's imposition of a bachelor's degree requirement for the position of 'Family Social Worker' was a pretextual reason for terminating the putative class members based on their race and/or age," the ruling states.

The first complaint was filed in September 2010, and the first phase of discovery began in early 2013, but "more than a year later, and more than three years since this action began, significant deficiencies remain regarding a number of critical discovery topics," Contreras wrote.

She said Rose and Temple failed to produce signed verifications of answers to interrogatories to the court, and failed to produce "right to sue" letters by the discovery deadline.

Indeed the failure by the lawyers to inform one class member of the date and time of her deposition cost the district $175 for the expense of a court reporter. The lawyers also submitted a revised report from an expert, but failed to "request leave from the court to file the report or to reopen expert discovery, and they made no attempt to explain whether good cause existed for the court to permit them to file a late report," the ruling states.

Dismissal of the complaint would not be an appropriate sanction because the counsel's lack of action during discovery has not yet prejudiced defendants, has not burdened the court's docket, and had not been disrespectful to the court, Contreras found.

"Although the court is frustrated by the time and energy it has spent babysitting discovery in the case - and has informed plaintiffs' counsel several times to that effect - it remains capable of managing the delays in the future without prejudicing its own docket," Contreras wrote.

Monetary sanctions are appropriate, however, and should fall on plaintiffs' counsel, who has represented the putative class since the beginning of the discovery process.

"Plaintiffs' inability to comply with discovery in a timely and effective manner has slowed the progress of this action to a snail's pace and hindered the district's ability to develop fully its defense, such as preparing an expert report and determining which plaintiffs have exhausted their administrative remedies," Contreras wrote. "And perhaps even more troubling, plaintiffs' counsel have given this court no reassurances that they are capable of resolving these discovery issues moving forward, despite repeated - and increasingly pointed - attempts by the court to nudge them in the right direction."

The district's Child and Family Services Agency presented evidence of 15.1 billable hours at $295 per hour it spent related to the discovery violations, plus the $175 expense for the court reporter, and should be paid $4,629 in return.

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