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Attorney Paul Zukerberg Suing DC Council Over Timing of Attorney General Election
Zukerberg, best known for his pro-marijuana views, wants to stop the Council from delaying the city's first attorney general election. By Benjamin Freed
Comments () | Published September 30, 2013
Photograph courtesy of Paul Zukerberg.
Paul Zukerberg, a defense attorney and one-time DC Council candidate who ran on a stridently pro-marijuana platform, is sparking up a new issue, though it has very little to do with the District’s weed laws. Zukerberg is suing the Council over its move to delay the District’s first attorney general election by four years, arguing that city legislators are willfully violating the city’s Home Rule Charter.

In 2010, DC voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to turn the DC attorney general’s office from an appointed one to an elected one. But in July, no potential candidates had expressed interest in running for the job, and Mayor Vince Gray’s office backed legislation to have more city lawyers report to his office rather than an elected attorney general’s.

Council member Jack Evans then introduced a bill to push the first attorney general election from 2014 to 2018. It passed on a first vote by an 8-5 margin, even with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson calling Evans’ move “an embarrassment.” But the bill is set to come up for a final vote tomorrow, and Zukerberg wants to move quickly.

“We need to get this resolved because the election cycle is about to begin and failure to resolve this issue has chilling effect on our rights to have a fair election,” he says. Candidates in next year’s elections can start petitioning voters for ballot access in early November, while primary votes are scheduled for April 1.

Zukerberg’s lawsuit, filed in DC Superior Court, seeks to prevent the Council from changing date of the attorney general election and from curtailing what powers that position would have. “We amended our charter, this is the actual constitution by which we live,” he says. ‘If the council can cancel the election for one office, they can cancel it for any office, including their own.”

But Zukerberg says he’s not pursuing the case to help his own political ambitions. “I haven't considered being a candidate at this point,” he says “I've been on the defense side for 28 years.”

Still, he can’t entirely decline a run. “I'm not absolutely ruling it out especially if I'm the only one who's going to bat for the voters,” Zukerberg adds. “We have to have the election.”

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  • john labonte

    The Council shortsightedly voted down the Elected Attorney General again today 7-6.

    So kudos to Attorney Zukerberg’s litigation initiativem and his passion for democracy. At national events like the commemoration of the March on Washington, we advertise our civic identity as “taxation without representation.” Yet having decided some time ago that the Attorney General should stand for popular election, the Council incumbents suddenly reversed themselves.

    The current A.G. Mr. Nathan is also on record as favoring the Legal Reorganization embodied earlier in Bill 20-134. One of the provisions of that proposal was the transfer of the Child Support Services Division from OAG to the Department of Human Services, where it was situated until about 15 years ago. The government union which represents us (AFSCME) testified in favor of that change last March, and my colleagues in Child Support were desperately looking forward to that transition, and with it, the hope of prospective new leadership of our Division.

    While under the Office of Attorney General the last 10 years or so, the Director and other senior managers in CSSD have presided over an office of high productivity, but afflicted with low morale. The workers have been subject to poor personnel practices, written up peevishly for minor infractions, such as returning a few minutes late from break, without prior verbal counseling to create a paper trail. Even more troubling has been a pattern of using City Investigators to harass or intimidate career employees, on multiple ocassions.

    Questions of propriety were raised concerning a multimillion dollar procurement contract that was terminated. A memorandum of understanding between management and the union concerning that contract may have been breached. Beginning in March 2011, the Superior Court rejected multiple pleadings of the Child Support Offices as noncompliant with Domestic Relations rules for paternity and support cases. This resulted in a critical backlog of more than 500 cases, a situation that was inexplicably concealed from the enforcement workers, and unjustly attributed to the Legal Services Section Chief, who was summarily fired. When the Director appealed that ruling, the rejection of city pleadings was upheld by Magistrate Kravitz in a case known as Marquis Burt v. D.C. in August 2011. That opinion rebuked the agency’s practices:”In the final analysis, it was the District’s own carelessness and questionable legal strategy, that are primarily responsible for the unfortunately responsible dor the unfortunate delay in the resolution of these cases on their merits.” That legal strategy was the workproduct of Agency Director Benidia Rice. D.C. and the child support workers deserve better.

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