By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2010; B01
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, under fire over juvenile crime and locked in a tight reelection fight, named a new juvenile justice chief Monday, forcing out the interim director and replacing him with a prosecutor who is a top aide to Attorney General Peter Nickles.
Robert Hildum, who was introduced at a news conference outside the city's juvenile detention center in Northeast, has been the city's top juvenile prosecutor and is familiar to senior officials at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.
But his appointment took many people inside and outside DYRS by surprise and raised fears among some advocates that juvenile justice reform in the District could be set back.
"With today's abrupt decision, the mayor just headed in exactly the wrong direction and risks the stability of these reforms," said Liz Ryan, head of the Campaign for Youth Justice.
Hildum will replace Marc A. Schindler, who was named interim director of the department in January.
Nickles, who was the lead lawyer in a class-action suit over the city's juvenile justice system before joining the Fenty administration, said Hildum is committed to maintaining and accelerating the reform efforts of the past several years.
"As the lead lawyer for the advocates for many, many, many years, I would never support a nominee who would not further the efforts that I spent so many years promoting," Nickles said.
Nickles said that Hildum's experience as a prosecutor is an asset at a time when some critics have said that the agency's focus on rehabilitation has come at the expense of public safety. "I think Rob Hildum brings that terrific approach of balancing rehabilitation with protection of the community," Nickles said.
After a string of crimes linked to juveniles that began with a mass shooting March 30 on South Capitol Street, DYRS was criticized, including by the attorney general. Nickles asked Hildum and others in the office to review DYRS.
Although it has not been released or described in detail, the report has been cited repeatedly by Nickles in his bid to make changes at the department.
Schindler, who was chief of staff at DYRS under then-Director Vincent N. Schiraldi, had appeared well positioned to win the permanent appointment from Fenty. Schindler, a lawyer and longtime juvenile justice advocate, was expected to ease some of the tensions that had built at DYRS during Schiraldi's effort to remake the agency.
But within a few months of taking over from Schiraldi, Schindler was confronting the South Capitol shooting, which had been erroneously linked to a 14-year-old who had walked away from a DYRS group home, and other crimes that involved defendants with DYRS histories.
In a matter of weeks, a nomination that had seemed a foregone conclusion was an open question. D.C. Council members have been jockeying for legislative solutions -- and political cover. And some critics have been demanding that Schindler be fired.
Allies inside and outside the administration tried to shore up Schindler's position, fearing that the furor over juvenile crime would roll back reform efforts and the push to end the long-running class-action lawsuit, known as the Jerry M. case.
At a council hearing last month, some of those who have helped press the lawsuit lined up to laud Schindler and endorse his continued leadership of DYRS.
Privately, some went further, saying that although Schiraldi was a visionary who remade a dysfunctional agency, Schindler was a better manager and well suited to continue the reform efforts.