Correction to This Article
This article about the resignation of D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer incorrectly said that she was the former head of D.C. Appleseed. Singer headed Appleseed, the national organization. Walter Smith is head of the local organization.

Attorney General Quits; Clash With Fenty Aide Cited

By David Nakamura and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer resigned yesterday as the city's top lawyer, a result of increasing frustration that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has relied more on his general counsel to make key legal decisions for the city, according to associates of Singer.

Named by Fenty (D) in January, Singer, 41, became the first Cabinet-level appointee to leave the mayor's office. Her departure comes as the city pursues several major legal cases, including a high-stakes appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court's decision to strike down the District's longtime ban on handguns. That case, which will mark the first time that the high court will decide a Second Amendment issue in 70 years, is expected to be argued in March.

In her resignation letter, Singer struck an upbeat tone and did not allude to her frustrations.

"I believe that I have raised the quality of the work of the Office of the Attorney General and the enthusiasm and performance of its many dedicated, gifted lawyers and staff," Singer wrote. "I am confident that I am leaving the office in far better shape than I found it."

Singer's resignation opens a window into the inner workings of the Fenty administration. Singer declined to comment, but her associates described mounting tension between Singer and Peter Nickles, Fenty's general counsel.

Singer, a graduate of Harvard Law School, joined the administration after serving for 13 years as the executive director of DC Appleseed, a nonprofit social service organization. She had been considered an unorthodox selection because she had not practiced law while at Appleseed and did not have a D.C. Bar license. She got a license shortly after being named attorney general.

Nickles, 69, is a longtime friend and running buddy of the mayor's father, Phil Fenty. Nickles spent years as a high-powered corporate litigator at Covington & Burling and had done pro bono work on behalf of D.C. jail inmates and St. Elizabeths patients, including major lawsuits against the city government, before joining Fenty's staff.

Nickles has led the Fenty administration's response to several high-profile social service cases, the city's bailout of financially strapped Greater Southeast Community Hospital and the embezzlement scandal at the Office of Tax and Revenue. Singer and her staff have argued that those and other key issues should be handled by her office.

Yesterday, Fenty named Nickles to replace Singer as acting attorney general after Singer's official departure Jan. 5. Deputy General Counsel Andrew T. "Chip" Richardson will replace Nickles until a new attorney general is selected, Fenty said.

Fenty, who said Singer informed him of her decision in a meeting yesterday morning, declined to discuss the specifics of their conversation. When asked about Nickles's broad role in his administration, Fenty said: "You never want to limit any employees. You never want to say any employees shouldn't get involved in as many issues as humanly possible."

Under the city's legal structure, the attorney general represents the District's interests, deciding which lawsuits to pursue and leading the legal strategy on cases. The general counsel is expected to deal with legal matters that directly affect the Executive Office of the Mayor. The wall between the offices is designed to ensure that legal decisions for the District are not influenced by politics.

Furthermore, the attorney general, though appointed by the mayor, is subject to confirmation by the D.C. Council; the general counsel is not.

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