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Posted at 7:49 PM ET, 10/22/2010

Why I oppose an elected attorney general

By washingtonpost.com editors

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
Washington

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.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | October 22, 2010; 7:49 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic  
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Comments

We don't need an AG looking for funds for his or her campaign and then afraid to investigate a group because they may not donate to a future campaign. This office should remain an unelected office for the Mayor to appoint someone the Mayor can work with and the residents see as a free agent.

Posted by: voter20 | October 23, 2010 7:00 AM | Report abuse

Electing an attorney general gives us no more of a political/conflict-of-interest problem than exists now when the attorney general is a political appointee of the mayor, who raises campaign funds.

Electing D.C.'s attorney general would clarify that the city's top lawyer works for the public, not a politician. An elected attorney general could then be called upon by the mayor (executive branch of government) or the council (legislative branch) for authoritative legal opinions regarding D.C. law.

In this way, having an independent legal officer in the city could actually lead to reducing duplicative services that currently exist in our local government.

The idea behind an elected attorney general is that the council and the mayor would no longer need to have separate stables of lawyers "on their side" of the government -- because the attorney general would work for the public.

And, frankly, the council and the mayor are supposed to work for the public, too. So, why would they need any other legal opinion than that of the elected attorney general?

Posted by: Kathy8 | October 24, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

What does it matter to you, You are out the door. And did you not do many of the things you are against? I'm willing to bet your own mother dislikes you.

Posted by: msdooby1 | October 24, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Nickles you forgot to mention your authorization of the Skinner/Karim contracts. Oops.

Posted by: georgerick11 | October 25, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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