I REMEMBER BEING dazzled. I was working on a series of articles concerning rent control and I had come for an appointment with a lawyer for some of the major landlords. We were sitting in his office and he was going through his legal briefs, stopping now and again to explain things to me, and it was clear that he did not need the papers before him one when. It was clear that the information was in his head and it was organized and it was precise and that he was brilliant were quite right. His name is Hohn Risher and now he is the corporation counsel for the District of Columbia and he is still brilliant. It is not that that I question.
I remember that day several years ago because Risher put on quite a show. Of all the people you had to talk about that bureaucratic swamp called rent control. Risher was maybe, the one person who always had an answer. He not only knew the law, but he knew the bureaucracy and he knew, moreover, how to explain things with a minimum of rhetoric. As I said, he was impressive.
So afterward when Risher's friend Walter Washington named him corporation counsel. I was pleased and I was happier still when Risher emerged as one of the mayor's closest advisers. We had lunch around that time and I came away with the impression that John Risher had come to serve his city and that he was determined always to do the right thing. I think he still tries to do the right thing. It is also not his immorality I question.
Anyway, now Risher is involved in a fight with Sterling Tucker, the chairman of the City Council alleging that Tucker broke the law by accepting part-time employment as a Howard University lecturer Risher has rightly pointed out that the law forbids the chairman of the City Council to hold an outside job and that Tucker, no doubt about it, has an outside job. Tucker, Risher says, has violated the law and Tucker, Risher insists, has to go.
All this to Risher is that simple-an open-and-shut case, so to speak. He does not seem to take into account. Tucker's contention that he did not think his part-time lecturing qualified as outside employment or his statement that he had discussed just this matter with the congressional chairmen whose committees framed the law and they told him they saw nothing wrong with his lecturing. But mostly he does not seem to take into account the fact that Tucker made no bones about his Howard post. He reported his income on his public financial statement. He did not hide it. In other words, Tucker apparently thought he was doing nothing wrong.
There are some who say that Risher, has an appointee of the mayor, has no business meddling with the City Council and there are some who say that by going to the court to settle this dispute Rischer has handed home rule a setback, but for me there is simply something excessive about the whole exercise. Risher is charging too hard, coming at Tucker as if he has caught him with his hand in the municipal cookie jar. The Punishment here does not in any way fit the alleged crime and while there may be reasons for a court to strip a City Council chairman of his seat, it is hard to believe that lecturing at Howard University is one. There is something wrong here and it reminds me of another episode involving Risher-his one-man crusade against non-existent babysellers.
You would be excused for thinking that this city was at one time the baby-selling capital of the Western world. Last autumn, this newspaper printed more than a dozen stories on the subject, most of them reporting on investigations being conducted by Risher, most of them using the term "baby-selling" in the headline, some of them using that term even though some of the later stories explained-sort of sotto voce -- that no babies had been sold. Nevertheless, there was the sound of sirens about the whole investigation, with Risher playing Mr. District Attorney and the newspapers playing, I'm afraid to say, patsy.
The cases are complicated, involving four different adoptions and four different professionals-two doctors and two lawyers-but suffice it to say that no one was convicted of selling babies and no one was even accused of receiving money in exchange for a child. In fact,it was apparent from the start that at least three of the adoptions involved a technical violation of the law at best and that the lawyer involved had not realized he was making a mistake. Nevertheless, once again Risher charged. The lawyer was tried and the trial lasted eight days. Twenty six witnesses were called and in the end he was convicted of a "minor misdemeanor" which is akin to a traffic offense. More important, the judge said that none of the defendants was "involved in the selling of babies, nor was any of them found to have acted with evil intent."
Well, there is that notion again-that phrase about evil intent. It is similar to what Tucker is saying, but once again Risher is waving the argument aside, coming at the City Council chairman with the legal equivalent of a baseball bat. So now we come back to the beginning, to where I was telling you how John Risher dazzled me and how he is a brilliant man and how I do not question either his brilliance or his morality, but something else-his judgement.
In a prosecutor, it is as important as brilliance.