A coda to my Monday post on the powers of the District’s attorney general: I mentioned the case of Emerson Crawley, a former D.C. public schools employee accused of billing taxpayers for improper expenses. The wrangling over his case resulted in a D.C. Court of Appeals ruling that drew sharp limits on the prosecutorial powers of the attorney general.
Crawley’s attorney, the ubiquitous Frederick D. Cooke Jr., has informed me Crawley’s story didn’t end with the high court opinion.
Turns out, after the ruling came down, the U.S. attorney’s office agreed to essentially deputize a city attorney for the purpose of prosecuting the case under federal auspices. When all was said and done, Crawley was acquitted of false claims charges.
Cooke said the defense he presented to Superior Court Judge Stuart G. Nash during the bench trial was pretty simple: Crawley was just following orders from supervisors.
I pressed Cooke on Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan’s point, that he should have the authority to prosecute these types of government corruption cases rather than rely on the feds to do it.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that; there ought to be local prosecution,” said Cooke, who held Nathan’s current job in the ’80s (then called corporation counsel). “But that’s not the law.”
He differs from Nathan in how the District ought to go about securing more prosecutorial discretion. Cooke argues, as most home-rule-favoring folks would, that all criminal charges should be prosecuted by locally accountable authorities — i.e., an elected or appointed district attorney.
Trying to expand the AG’s prosecutorial portfolio piecemeal, he said, isn’t the way to go. Cooke said he’s of a mind to “heighten the contradictions” presented by the broad federal role in the District’s justice system in hopes of convincing Congress that they should let the District prosecute itself.
Nathan’s position, of course, recognizes that Congress is not going to do that any time soon. “I don’t think [Nathan’s] misguided,” Cooke said. “I just disagree with him.”