A federal judge will consider Wednesday whether to impose sanctions on former Philadelphia School District officials and the firm that represents them in a lawsuit over a $7.5 million no-bid contract for security cameras that was awarded to a small minority firm in 2010.
Attorneys for John L. Byars, a former district procurement director, asked U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg to sanction the officials and the Tucker Law Group LLC for failing to provide documents for Byars' civil rights and defamation suit in a timely matter.
Clifford E. Haines, Byars' attorney, alleges that the Tucker firm engaged in "willful misconduct."
In documents filed late last month, he asked the judge to rule in favor of his client and require the Tucker firm to compensate Byars' lawyers for their efforts "to correct the harm" caused by the firm's conduct.
Haines also asked that the Tucker firm be disqualified from representing the defendants because repeated delays created opportunities to bill the district for more work.
The Tucker firm denied Haines' allegations and blamed him for the delays.
In a response posted Monday, Tucker attorneys called Haines' request "baseless, false and frivolous." They asked the judge to sanction Haines' firm.
Tucker attorneys said Haines was seeking to avoid a trial because Byars' case is weak.
"This time, it is through sham allegations and feigned indignation about discovery already produced," Bacardi L. Jackson, a Tucker lawyer, said in a memo to the judge.
Byars was placed on leave and then fired by the district in 2011. He alleges he was made a scapegoat for talking to the FBI and for the controversy that erupted after the Inquirer reported that Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman had pushed aside a Bucks County company that had begun preliminary work on an emergency contract to install surveillance cameras at 19 schools.
A district source told the newspaper that Ackerman, who is now deceased, ordered the contract to go to IBS Communications Inc., a small, minority-owned firm. The Bucks County company was on a state list of companies approved for no-bid emergency work; IBS was not.
The former district administrators maintain Byars was fired because Michael A. Schwartz, an outside attorney hired by the district, found Byars had violated the ethics code by creating his own website to do business with district vendors.
In a memo supporting sanctions, Haines said the Tucker firm's discovery violations caused the trial to be postponed from May to November.
He said the Tucker Group had many chances to produce emails and documents sought in 2013 related to Schwartz's inquiry into camera contract leaks.
During a court conference in January, the Tucker firm said the emails included more than 600,000 pages and would cost at least $75,000 to retrieve and review.
A day before a final pretrial conference and on the eve of Schwartz's deposition, Haines said Tucker lawyers delivered emails containing hundreds of pages of documents.
Goldberg postponed the Schwartz deposition - and the trial - to give Byars' lawyers time to review the information.
A transcript shows the judge called the discovery process "botched."
At his deposition, Schwartz said the Tucker Group had the documents from his investigation for some time.
"At every turn, the Tucker Law Group has stonewalled," Haines wrote.
But in its response, the Tucker firm said it had told the court several times it had access to the material through Schwartz's firm and the third-party platform but would need technical help to conduct a labor-intensive search.
Tucker attorneys said Haines did not abide by the judge's discovery timetable. They said that it was his fault that "all parties and this court are still embroiled in discovery disputes" and that his conduct warranted sanctions.