Nickles returns to Covington & Burling as senior counsel and will help lead a new crisis management practice, the firm announced Thursday. It was at Covington, where Nickles previously spent four decades, that he sued the District on behalf of neglected mental patients, prison inmates and others.
"I didn't want to retire. I still have a lot of energy left," said Nickles, 72, in an interview from Hawaii, where he was vacationing with his family and preparing for a morning swim.
Nickles said the new practice would be a one-stop shop for clients who need "one person to lead them through the maze of government, regulatory processes and the court and to provide public relations."
The formal announcement of Nickles's return to Covington quotes former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and Fenty: "Peter was my go-to-guy on crisis issues facing the city," Fenty said in the statement. "I could always rely on his wise counsel and judgment."
The role of Nickles, a longtime friend of Fenty's family, stretched beyond that of attorney general in Fenty's administration. He was often the mayor's de facto spokesman, wading into controversial issues, including questions about Fenty's foreign travel and the city's donation of an ambulance and firetruck to a town in the Dominican Republic.
In the heat of the Democratic primary contest last year, then-D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray called for Nickles to be fired, in part because of the perception that the city's chief attorney was too close to the mayor. Nickles's tenure was so controversial that the council sought a ballot measure for an elected attorney general, which voters approved in November.
When he wasn't defending the mayor, Nickles played a major role in shoring up the financially troubled United Medical Center, the city's only hospital east of the Anacostia River. He pressed public-interest lawsuits against city slumlords and tried to free the city from court oversight in longstanding cases involving how the District handles issues such as juvenile justice, mental health patients and special education.
Back in private practice, Nickles will join former federal government officials such as former homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff and bold-faced names such as former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in advising national and international businesses. Nickles will also assist clients on internal investigations, high-profile litigation and contested corporate transactions, according to the announcement.
Nickles's departure from the highest ranks of city government also frees him from D.C.'s residency requirement, allowing him to give up his apartment in Chinatown and return to his horse farm in Great Falls, Va.