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In 2000, when Eric Washington was still an associate judge at the D.C. Court of Appeals, he was on a three-judge panel that heard arguments in an employment discrimination case from a fired bank teller who won a $1 million jury award and then lost everything in a second trial. It then took more than seven years for the panel to issue its opinion, which was delivered last week by Senior Judge John Terry with an unusual footnote: “The court sincerely regrets the unusual delay in issuing this opinion.” Terry, who couldn’t be reached for comment, didn’t explain the reasons for the delay in the 24-page opinion, which simply affirmed D.C. Superior Court Judge Richard Levie‘s order to set aside the $1 million judgment as excessive and grant a second trial. Richard Swick, who represented Viola Scott against Crestar Financial Corp., says he probably will seek an en banc hearing. “If a lawyer did this, the lawyer would be disciplined. They should be held accountable for this,” Swick says about the seven-year delay. “It’s really difficult to explain to [Scott] why it took so long.” The D.C. Court of Appeals has long been known for lengthy delays. Recent statistics show the average overall time on appeals increased from 562 days in 2005 to 575 days last year. The average time from argument to decision dropped slightly from 125 days in 2005 to 117 days last year, but the 2006 average was still higher than 2003 and 2004. By comparison, the Scott case took more than 2,600 days from argument to decision. Washington, who became chief judge two years ago, refused to be interviewed last week about the Scott case or about appellate delays. In an order granting a new trial, Levie claimed Swick made prejudicial comments during his closing which in essence told the jury to “send a message” to Crestar. Levie admitted Swick didn’t use that exact phrase, and Swick says he chose his words carefully. Neither Crestar’s counsel nor Levie objected to the comments at trial, which might have salvaged the first trial, the appellate opinion noted. Scott, a black woman, claimed she was fired in 1996 over national origin discrimination. Crestar officials said she violated a personnel policy, which had not resulted in a termination before. Attorneys for Crestar, which merged with SunTrust Banks Inc. in 1998, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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