Why I oppose an elected attorney general
The Nov. 2 D.C. ballot includes a referendum on whether the D.C. Home Rule Charter should be changed to make the city’s attorney general an elected position. The position is currently filled by mayoral appointment, subject to D.C. Council confirmation. Click here to read former D.C. Council member William P. Lightfoot argue for the change.
By Peter Nickles
Why do I oppose an elected attorney general? Three primary reasons:
1. An elected attorney general will be a politician — not the city’s top lawyer. Think of Virginia’s current Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, New York’s former governor Eliot Spitzer and New York gubernatorial front-runner Andrew Cuomo, all of them former attorney generals. Politicians raise money and are beholden to special interests, and an elected attorney general will always be thinking about getting reelected or moving up in the political hierarchy. You do what’s politically correct. I am concerned that an elected attorney general would not pursue — as my office has — actions related to slumlords, phony used-car dealers, brothel owners, massage parlors, billboards, payday lenders and large corporations such as Bank of America, AT&T, Verizon and others.
2. An elected attorney will cost the city millions. The change would force the city to effectively to double up on its lawyers. The current attorney general’s office would stay the same, with its 700 lawyers and staff. But the mayor would have to expand very significantly the number of his or her lawyers to fulfill the responsibilities of the office. A conservative estimate of additional costs to the city is $10 million a year — too many lawyers.
3. The right balance of policy and law. When it comes to policy, the mayor should call the shots. This is what the voters expect when they elect a mayor. An elected attorney general may have his own views as to policy and pursue those views, leading to potential clashes with the mayor. When it comes to the law and the protection of the legal rights of our citizens, the attorney general should call the shots, and that’s the way it is now. For over 40 years, I represented citizens of this city in litigation against the District, so I know about the difference between policy and law. In my view, the balance achieved in the Fenty administration was just right — though there are obviously folks who disagree.
The writer is the D.C. attorney general.
| October 22, 2010; 7:49 PM ET
Categories: D.C., HotTopic
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