A federal judge Wednesday delayed ruling on whether to impose sanctions on former Philadelphia School District officials and the lawyers who represent them for failing to produce documents in a suit stemming from a $7.5 million no-bid contract for security cameras that was awarded to a small minority-owned firm in 2010.
During a hearing on the sanctions, lawyers from Tucker Law Group LLC, which represents district officials, said they had emailed 600 pages of documents in June to attorneys representing John Byars, a former district procurement director, in his civil rights and defamation suit.
Byars' lawyers at Haines & Associates said they never received the email but acknowledged they had not complained to the judge.
"We're in the Twilight Zone here," U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg said.
He ordered Tucker lawyers to make copies of the documents and hand-deliver them to the Haines office by the end of the business day Thursday.
Goldberg said the Tucker firm had fallen short in producing documents he had ordered and that Haines attorneys had been deficient in their response.
"In my opinion, you both have wasted a lot of time and money," the judge told the attorneys.
The documents at the center of the dispute are supporting material that Michael A. Schwartz, an outside attorney hired by the district, used for a report in which he found that Byars had violated the ethics code by creating his own website to do business with district vendors.
Byars' attorneys have asked Goldberg to penalize the Tucker firm for failing to provide the material in a timely matter.
The Tucker firm blamed Byars' lawyers for the delays and for failing to abide by the timetable Goldberg set for seeking and supplying documents. Tucker lawyers said the attorneys at Haines should be sanctioned.
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 no-bid contract to go to IBS Communications Inc., a small, minority-owned firm. The Bucks County company, Security & Data Technologies Inc. (SDT), was on a state list of companies approved for no-bid emergency work; IBS was not.
Byars' trial is scheduled to start Nov. 28.
The district has lost two other lawsuits tied to the 2010 camera contract.
In June, a federal jury found Ackerman had discriminated against SDT by steering the no-bid contract to IBS.
The year before, jurors found that Ackerman and a former human-relations official violated Francis X. Dougherty's right to free speech by placing the former administrator on leave during Schwartz's inquiry and then recommending the SRC fire him.
So far, the district is facing $6.3 million in costs related to the camera contract, including a $725,000 settlement with Dougherty and $2.3 million in damages awarded to SDT.
The total also includes nearly $2 million spent on outside lawyers. Of that, $1.6 million was paid to the Tucker firm through Sept. 15, according to documents obtained under the state's open-records law.
The Tucker amount does not include bills from the six-day SDT trial. The district lawyer who handles records requests said that as of Sept. 15, the firm had not submitted those bills.