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 Court Judge James E. Boasberg questioned whether a delay in the election amounted 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.
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.