Mayor Marion Barry has narrowed his choices for a new District of Columbia Corporation Counsel to about six blacks, including two women -- Zoning Commission member Ruby B. McZier and Elizabeth Hayes Patterson, chairman of the city's Public Service Commission, according to knowledgeable sources.
Barry advisers have cast the post as a role for a legal "superstar" capable of upgrading the operations, efficiency and esteem of the city's lowly-regarded law office.
Others under consideration, the sources said, include Edwin W. Norton, 40, deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; H. Patrick Swygert, special counsel for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; Thomas McQueen, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, and U.S. Magistrate Henry Kennedy Jr.
Notably absent from the list are two D.C. Superior Court judges and several black lawyers at prestigious uptown law firms, whose names impressed many in the legal community when first reported last month, but who also were considered unlikely to accept the relatively low-paying and powerless city post.
"The mayor realized that he wasn't going to talk Thurgood Marshall off the Supreme Court bench and into the District Building, so to speak," one Barry confidant said last week.
Corporation counsel is one of four top posts that Barry had hoped to fill by inauguaration day, Jan. 2. The others -- budget director, city administrator and housing director -- and more than a dozen others have been filled.
Barry has yet to announce a corporation counsel, largely because deliberations have been postponed by other matters, confidants said. The mayor is expected to decide perhaps by the end of this week, but that choice may not be announced then, one well-placed source said.
"Once he got the other people in place, he felt he could wait. It's been put on ice since just before Christmas," the source said. "Now, I think he'd rather go slowly and be sure he gets the right person rather than rushing ahead and making a mistake."
Most of the six already have been interviewed and have expressed interest, the sources said.
McZier, 38, a 1965 Howard University Law School graduate who practices law and along with her husband runs a management consultant firm, told a reporter she had "given consideration to it."
Norton, 40, a Columbia University Law School graduate, former general counsel for the New York City Housing Authority and husband of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairman Eleanor Holmes Norton, said he is "not disinterested" in the job.
Swygert, 35, has just been promoted to a new post with such a wide jurdisdiction that some acquaintances doubt he has any interest in the corporation counsel post, "how do you turn down a presidential appointment in which you have jurisdiction over the entire federal work force?" one lawyer said. "It's no slight to Marion, but how is he going to match that?"
Kennedy, McQueen and Patterson could not be reached for comment.
Another lawyer in whom Barry was interested is Togo West, but West has been named special assistant to Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and to Brown's deputy, Charles W. Duncan.
A central factor in Barry's effort to recruit a "cream of the crop" black lawyer as corporation counsel is a proposal to transfer to the office authority to prosecute city criminal cases. They now are handled by the U.S. Attorney's office.
Many of Barry's advisers believe that such authority would make the office more attractive to lawyers because the corporation counsel would be involved in the more glamorous, prestigious and politically potent area of legal work.
"Being corporation counsel is like a hobby now," one Barry adviser said last week. "That (prosecuting authority) would add a new dimension, even though the office still won't end up like the U.S. attorney's office."
When Barry met President Carter and other administration aides at the White House last week, the possible transfer of prosecuting authority was one one of the subjects discussed. Such a change is being debated in the White House, according to administration sources, who say the president's advisers are divided in their opinions.
One White House source said last week that some members of the Carter administration would like to extend to the city the authority to prosecute violations of local law just as local prosecutors in other municipalities are able to do.
But opposition is coming from the Justice Department, a source said, where there is a feeling that being able to coordinate local and federal prosecutions through the same office makes for better law enforcement and also attracts higher quality lawyers that usually are found in U.S. attorneys' offices.
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's general assistant, said last week's White House meeting reached agreement on further discussions about the matter. These would involve Attorney General Griffin B. Bell and Barry, Donaldson said.
"Justice has not been aggressively in favor of it in the past. But there has not been any serious dialogue before," Donaldson said.
One White House source familiar with the deliberations said, "The fact that it's being discussed is a good sign. This is the first administration to discuss it seriously... But whether it will go anywhere is another story."
If the city receives such authority, it could mean an additional $8 million to $10 million in expenditures by the city government. Donaldson said he believes Barry is willing to accept that financial ourden on the city's behalf if the costs can be transferred in phases.
Since the office was created at the turn of the century, three blacks have held the post of corporation counsel -- Hubert B. Pair, Charles T. Duncan and Joyn R. Risher Jr.