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Acting Attorney General Up for D.C. Council Vote

D.C.'s Acting Attorney General Peter J. Nickles was lauded in a report for his knowledge and experience but criticized for his close ties to the mayor.
D.C.'s Acting Attorney General Peter J. Nickles was lauded in a report for his knowledge and experience but criticized for his close ties to the mayor. (By Haraz N. Ghanbari -- Associated Press)

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By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A divided D.C. Council is scheduled to vote today on the confirmation of Acting Attorney General Peter J. Nickles, one day after the body's judicial panel voted against confirming him on the grounds that he is too close to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, that he has yet to move to the District and that he has frustrated many with his aggressive style.

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The Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary voted 3 to 2 against confirming Nickles for the attorney general post after the panel's chairman, Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), released a 20-page report that raised a number of questions about Nickles since he was hired in 2006.

Although the report said Nickles has "exceptional experience and knowledge," it sharply criticized him as being heavy-handed in his dealings with city government employees and elected officials. Most important, the report said, Nickles is too close to Fenty (D) to represent residents and the city.

"I don't have any comment," Nickles said in a brief interview, referring questions to the mayor's office, which later released a statement.

"The administration is unequivocally confident in Peter Nickles's ability and commitment to greatly serve the residents of the District of Columbia as the city's attorney general," the statement said. "While we respect the council's process, we look forward to a swift approval resolution."

In his report, Mendelson said that "Mr. Nickels does not show the independent judgment that is necessary. He would be the Attorney General for the city, but he is acting as if he is the legal counsel for the mayor. He is making personnel decisions which are inappropriate when he is the attorney who will have to defend the city in court."

According to the report, "Mr. Nickles is clearly an adviser to the Mayor on a variety of political matters. If in his role as the Attorney General he is later required to defend these same political matters, his defense strategy is compromised."

D.C. Council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) joined Mendelson in voting against Nickles; Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) supported him.

"I just don't think that he has shown enough respect for the rule of law," Cheh said yesterday. "He has taken steps to fire people and basically told people to sue us if you don't like it."

But Evans said Nickles has not violated any laws.

"Council member Cheh misstated that fact during the committee hearing and then corrected herself," Evans said. "Peter Nickles is aggressive and outspoken, and more than anything, this is why some of my colleagues have not supported him."

Fenty appointed Nickles acting attorney general last January, and during his confirmation hearing last month, a number of prominent officials testified on his behalf. Among them were former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and former secretary of veterans affairs Togo West. The list also included many city officials, from D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier to Shelley Broderick, dean of the University of the District of Columbia's David A. Clarke School of Law.

Those opposing his confirmation include Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1; Rick Rosendall, vice president of political affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.; Alison Gill of the DC Trans Coalition; George Clark of the Federation of Citizens Associations; and Lawrence Guyot, a veteran civil rights and District activist.

Bowser yesterday questioned Mendelson's actions.

"Just on Friday, there was a resolution to approve Nickles, and by this morning it was a resolution to disapprove him," she said after yesterday's committee vote. "Peter Nickles has been a tough advocate for the city and District residents, and I don't think that anybody can deny that."

"In terms of public safety issues and housing, he has insisted on making sure that we are putting systems in place to hold slumlords accountable," Bowser said. "It is my hope that my colleagues will look at Mr. Nickles's long history as an advocate, and I think that District residents are better off with his service."


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