Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has faced criticism for appointing close friends and allies to influential positions on the city's boards and commissions. Now, the wife of one of his top deputies has been hired into a full-time government job.
Lilian A. Shepherd, 41, who is married to Neil O. Albert, deputy mayor for economic development, was hired Feb. 2 as a trial attorney in the criminal section of the public safety division in the D.C. attorney general's office. She is being paid $81,563, city officials said.
Federal government nepotism rules, which govern the District, stipulate that a public official may not advocate for, appoint or hire a spouse or other relative in the agency over which he or she exercises control. The legal office is overseen by Attorney General Peter J. Nickles, who reports to Fenty (D). Nickles said he has never met Shepherd and did not know she was working for his agency until he was informed by a reporter.
"She went through the regular channels," said Nickles, who oversees about 200 staff attorneys.
Shepherd, who has a law degree from Brooklyn Law School and a bachelor's from Worcester State College, had spent time as a prosecutor in New York; more recently, she oversaw her own family law practice in Alexandria, city government sources said.
She responded to a job opening notice for the attorney general's office, which was seeking prosecutors. According to the posting, the criminal section "prosecutes all traffic offenses, including drunk drivers and individuals who flee after accidents; quality of life offenses, including all offenses relating to providing alcohol to minors and possession of false identification to purchase alcohol, as well as indecent exposure and miscellaneous offenses designated by the D.C. Council, such as parental kidnapping."
The duties of the position "include interviewing and preparing police and civilian witnesses; making charging decisions; researching, writing, and litigating motions; managing all aspects of a trial calendar from intake through sentencing."
Shepherd, who declined to comment for this story, was required by D.C. personnel rules to disclose her relationship with Albert on her job application.
However, a government source said Deputy Attorney General Robert Hildum, who hired Shepherd, was not aware that Shepherd was related to Albert and that no city official pressured him to hire her. Shepherd was among seven candidates for three openings in that division, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue was a personnel matter. Each candidate sat through a brief interview of about 15 to 20 minutes with Hildum and one of his deputies, who later "compared notes" and decided which ones to hire, the source said.
Hildum declined to comment.
The hiring of relatives to high-level jobs is not unique to the Fenty administration. For example, former Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) appointed Robert Newman as director of the parks and recreation agency and hired his wife, Sherryl Hobbs Newman, to run the city's customer service division, including the call center. Some former Williams aides said this week that D.C. is a small town with a limited universe of qualified people, so hiring relatives of employees is almost unavoidable.
Still, the whiff of patronage is hard to escape.
Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who this week voted against Fenty's appointment of family friend Lori Lee to the Public Service Commission, said that if no rules were broken, then she would not automatically object to the hiring of Shepherd, assuming she is qualified. (The council voted 9 to 3 to appoint Lee.)
However, Cheh added that "my instinct would be to try to avoid this. ... I would look at each situation individually, but as a general matter would use an abundance of caution. It's probably not a wise thing."