Attorney general race will not appear on D.C. primary ballots, judge rules

District residents will have to wait at least seven months — and perhaps four years or more — before they cast ballots for the city’s top attorney after a judge declined to intervene in the matter Friday.

Superior Court Judge Laura A. Cordero denied a petition from Paul Zukerberg, a lawyer and candidate for the office, challenging last year’s decision by lawmakers to postpone the city’s first attorney general election until 2018.

Because Cordero rejected Zukerberg’s request to stop election officials from printing ballots that do not list the attorney general race, the office will, barring appeal, not be contested in the April 1 primary election.

Cordero said Zukerberg did not prove that he would be irreparably harmed by the failure to appear on the ballot, a key condition for winning a pretrial injunction. “Plaintiff can potentially seek elected office, if not during the 2014 general election, certainly after January 2018,” she wrote.

Putting Zukerberg, the only candidate to qualify, on the ballot “would result in confusion both for voters and the District of Columbia regarding the validity of casting a vote for a candidate who may not assume office.”

Currently, the attorney general is appointed by the mayor.

At the heart of Zukerberg’s case was the argument that the council had no authority to delay the election mandate, which was ratified by city voters in a 2010 charter-amendment referendum. But Cordero said the plain language of the charter amendment, setting the election for “after January 1, 2014,” opened the door for a delay.

After a court hearing Thursday, during which Cordero was clearly skeptical of whether an injunction was warranted, Zukerberg said he would consider his appeal options should his request be denied.

On Friday, Zukerberg said he would not file an emergency appeal. “But the fight for good government and voting rights will go on,” he said.

Gary Thompson, Zukerberg’s attorney, also renewed criticisms of the lawmakers who voted to delay the election, calling that move “egregiously wrong.”

“Shame on the council,” he said. “They pretend to be champions of democracy . . . but when the issue is put before them, they fail the people.”

It appears that Zukerberg’s best chance to appear on a ballot this year could involve the D.C. Council, not the courts. A bill drafted by Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) that would put the attorney general race on November’s general election ballot, without a primary, could move quickly through the legislative process.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) has scheduled a hearing on the bill for Monday. Cheh was among those members who voted 7 to 6 to delay the election. If the six members who voted against the delay support Cheh’s bill, it could pass the council this spring.

“It will give us plenty of time for candidates to come forward,” Cheh said Friday.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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