D.C. Corporation Counsel John R. Risher Jr. announced yesterday that he would not appeal a D.C. Superior Court ruling permitting City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker to remain in office despite violations by Tucker of the Home Rule Charter's prohibitions against outside employment.
Risher's decision not to contest a ruling Tuesday by Chief Judge Harold H. Greene apparently ended six months of political and legal controversy.
"I simply see nothing to be gained by asking the (D.C.) Court of Appeals to say that it disagrees with Judge Greene's exercise of discretion," Risher said. "An appeal of the trial court decision would not further the purposes of this government in any manner I deem significant."
Risher, the city's principal lawyer and a confident of Mayor Walter E. Washington, had asked the court June 6 to remove Tucker from office because the Council chairman had for three years taught at Howard University and received about $18,000 for his work.
The Home Rule Charter prohibits the Council chairman from holding any salaried position other than the post to which he is elected, and provides that he be paid $10,000 a year more than the other 12 Council members and work fulltime for the city.
Tucker said he had been assured by congressional leaders and staff members who drew up the charter legislation that his work at the university was not prohibited. The Council chairman had routinely reported the income and its source of origin to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
Greene ruled Tuesday that Tucker's employment at the school was in violation of the charter prohibitions. But to oust Tucker from office because of that violation, as Risher had requested, would be too severe a punishment and not in the best "public interest," the judge said.
From its inception late last May, Risher's investigation has been tinged with political overtones because of his close relationship with the mayor, and because Tucker, who is preparing to run for mayor next year, is viewed as a major political threat to Washington should the mayor seek re-election.
"None of us can say it didn't have political overtones," Risher said yesterday. "Whatever is done that seemingly enhances the mayor as a political officeholder will inevitably be viewed as coming from one of the mayor's top officers.
"Surely those who oppose the mayor will try to milk down the substance of what I do as being political. That's unavoidable . . . I don't think it's a valid point of view.
"What I did, I clearly had a duty to do. And what I did, it should now be clear to everyone, is what should have been done."
Judge Greene's 58-page opinion agreed with Risher's contention that Tucker's action was a violation of the law. It was only at the point where Risher asserted that because of the violation Tucker should automatically forfeit his office, that the judge dissented.
Just as the decision to bring the suit was not discussed in advance with the mayor, according to Risher, neither was the decision not to appeal Greene's ruling.
Risher said that both the mayor, who was out of town yesterday, and city administrator Julian R. Dugas had been told of the no-appeal decision after it was made by the corporation counsel's staff. Neither disagreed with it, Risher said.
One of them most criticized aspects of Risher's action was his decision to seek what many viewed as a radical resolution - Tucker's removal from office - instead of trying to resolve the politically explosive issue outside of court.
But Risher said it would have been "inappropriate if not improper" to carry on private negotiations. "My duty is to put the legal issues before the court. That's the proper forum that's been established for resolutions of these issues and (I should) not enter into private negotiations as though I were the ultimate depository of supreme wisdom."
Risher likened the Greene ruling to a declaration that Tucker had committed "a pardonable offense." Asked if the decision not to remove Tucker was a surprise, Risher responded, "I'm often surprised and I say after I'm surprised that it simply shows that I am not nearly as bright as I would like to think that I am."
It was not immediately clear yesterday what effect the Greene opinion and Risher's subsequent decision not to appeal would have on next year's mayoral race, in which Tucker is the acknowledged front runner of the three major unannounced candidates, and Washington is viewed by many as the weakest.
While the resolution of the court conflict does appear to have removed some of the uncertainty about Tucker's possible candidacy, persons close to the Council chairman greeted it yesterday with more of a sigh of relief than as a political shot in the arm. Other city hall sources felt Tucker might be harmed somewhat by a declaration that he had violated the law, even though he was not punished for it.
Council member John A. Wilson (D-two) accepted neither view. "I don't think John (Risher) thought it was going to be looked upon as frivolously as it has been . . . He should have looked at it a lot more closely before he jumped into the pan." WIllson said.
"I don't think it will help anyone. I don't think it will hurt anyone. Most people will probably forget about it by election time."