WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia attorney general traded barbs with a lawyer Wednesday as he testified in defense of his office's handling of a lawsuit arising from the mass arrests of anti-globalization demonstrators.
Irvin Nathan testified in U.S. District Court in Washington, where a federal magistrate has been investigating allegations of potential evidence tampering in a case that's now spanned more than a decade.
The suit stems from the arrests of about 400 demonstrators outside the September 2002 meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Most demonstrators have settled with the D.C. government, but a few remain as plaintiffs.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola has held hearings over the last several months, with witnesses including Police Chief Cathy Lanier, to address allegations that someone may have tried to delete electronic evidence connected to the case.
The latest witness was Nathan, who engaged in a sometimes testy back-and-forth with Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor and lawyer for the plaintiffs, over Turley's repeated assertions that the attorney general's office has a pattern of submitting false statements and failing to provide evidence or key information.
Nathan, the top lawyer for the D.C. government, said he was not aware of anyone on his staff who had "knowingly violated any ethical rule, who had knowingly submitted any inaccurate information."
When Turley asked Nathan why the suit has taken so long to resolve, Nathan replied, "You," and said he hoped that the judge's inquiry would soon be over so that the merits of the case could be decided.
"I hope it will be brought to an end," Nathan said. "I hope I will be the last witness."
He acknowledged that his office had waited two months in 2011 before telling the judge that a contractor had discovered an apparent attempt to delete information from a computer server. But he said that the lawyer handling the matter wasn't positive she understood exactly what the technician meant and that because the information wasn't actually deleted, "I viewed it as no harm, no foul."
He compared it to "being delayed in delivering a false alarm."
Lanier testified in March that she had specifically wanted any attempted evidence tampering to be investigated by a federal agency such as the FBI. However, Nathan said he was under the impression that the police department would handle the investigation, while farming out the computer forensics aspect of it to the FBI or a private contractor.
"That said to me that (she) was in control of the remainder of the investigation," he said.
Facciola directed the parties to submit additional written arguments in July. After the hearing had concluded and Nathan had left the courtroom, Turley asked that Facciola consider referring the case to the Office of Bar Counsel, which handles disciplinary matters involving lawyers.