Rul­ing due next week in at­tor­ney gen­eral elec­tion

Plain­tiff wants vote in 2014

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

A fed­eral judge said Thurs­day he will is­sue a rul­ing next week on a law­suit seek­ing to keep the race for the Dis­trict’s first elected at­tor­ney gen­eral on the 2014 bal­lot. But the rul­ing might stand only to de­lay a de­ci­sion fur­ther.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge James E. Boas­berg ques­tioned whether a de­lay in the elec­tion amounts to a con­sti­tu­tional vi­o­la­tion, which would give the fed­eral court au­thor­ity over such a case. The judge has the op­tion to remand the case back to D.C. Su­pe­rior Court.

Lawyer Paul Zuker­berg, who brought the case and this week an­nounced his can­di­dacy for the at­tor­ney gen­eral po­si­tion, is seek­ing a quick rul­ing. The elec­tion cy­cle kicks off Fri­day, when can­di­dates can be­gin col­lect­ing sig­na­tures re­quired for nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions. Mr. Zuker­berg ini­tially filed the law­suit in D.C. Su­pe­rior Court in Septem­ber, but the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice re­quested it be filed in U.S. Dis­trict Court.

Fear­ing that the city wasn’t pre­pared for the elec­tion of an at­tor­ney gen­eral, the D.C. Coun­cil passed a bill last month to post­pone the race un­til 2018.

The move came af­ter vot­ers ap­proved a char­ter amend­ment in Novem­ber 2010 au­tho­riz­ing the first elec­tion of the city’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, which the coun­cil had al­ready ap­proved through leg­is­la­tion.

The mea­sure passed by the coun­cil states the elec­tion will take place “af­ter Jan­uary 1, 2014,” but the sum­mary state­ment that ap­peared on the voter bal­lot said it would be held “in 2014.”

Dur­ing Thurs­day’s hear­ing, Judge Boas­berg crit­i­cized the dis­crep­an­cies.

“Ei­ther the coun­cil did a lousy job writ­ing the act or the Board of Elec­tions did a lousy job in­ter­pret­ing it,” Judge Boas­berg said. “Some­one didn’t do a very good job here.”

As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Keith Par­sons, one of two at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing the Dis­trict, agreed there was an “ap­par­ent con­flict there.” But he went on to ar­gue that only the lan­guage in the char­ter amend­ment it­self should count, say­ing that the coun­cil’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion that the time­line was flex­i­ble was in­ten­tional be­cause of­fi­cials knew it would take work to pre­pare be­fore an elec­tion could be held.

Judge Boas­berg asked if dis­count­ing the lan­guage used on the bal­lots was, in a way, “hood­wink­ing the vot­ers.”

As both sides await a de­ci­sion on the mat­ter, the Board of Elec­tions is con­tin­u­ing to pro­ceed with prepa­ra­tions for the elec­tion. The bill passed by the D.C. Coun­cil — which D.C. Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray dis­ap­proved of but did not veto — is still un­der a pe­riod of con­gres­sional re­view and has not taken ef­fect. The ear­li­est it is likely to take ef­fect is mid-De­cem­ber — well into the elec­tion cy­cle.

Nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions will be avail­able Fri­day for can­di­dates, who will have to col­lect 2,000 sig­na­tures be­fore Jan. 2 in or­der to have their names in­cluded on the bal­lot for the pri­mary elec­tion in April.

If the case is re­manded back to D.C. Su­pe­rior Court, Mr. Zuker­berg’s at­tor­ney, Gary Thomp­son, said it would be a set­back, but he would seek an or­der to keep the law from tak­ing ef­fect.

“Sooner or later we’ll get to the mer­its and as you saw to­day, it’s a slam dunk for Mr. Zuker­berg,” he said.

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