- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

Ever since the 1998 elections, which were the midway mark between the congressionally created control board and the restoration of home rule, the District's top elected officials have tried to strengthen their hand. We recently saw more of the same this time via discourse on who should prosecute crimes that occur in the District of Columbia: the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, as established federal and local law now has it, or an elected D.C. attorney general.
The question is on the table because, unlike states, the District, which is structured as a municipal government, has limited judicial powers. The president appoints its judges and its chief prosecutor, and the federal government handles most of the city's hard-core criminals all of which is paid for with federal tax dollars. On the local level, the mayor appoints a corporation counsel, whose office of 400-plus legal beagles handles civil infractions, defends the D.C. government and handles misdemeanors and halfway houses. The system has worked well for 200 years. But, now that the control board is dormant, D.C. officials want to take over the entire kit and kaboodle and add a judicial system to its other two crooked branches of government operations. That is, it wants to act like a state.
Interestingly, the proposal was crafted by none other than D.C. Council member David Catania. Mr. Catania reminded the media in a press release that he "has long championed" a D.C. attorney general. Not to be outdone, Mr. Catania's 12 colleagues (half of them lawyers) support him on this, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (another lawyer) has crafted legislation to establish a D.C. attorney general. She also is pushing legislation that calls for the District to have complete control of its budget, the way states do.
Indeed, what Mr. Catania, Mrs. Norton and company are doing is putting several carts before several horses, including the Constitution and the U.S. Code, hoping this will eventually lead to full congressional representation and statehood.
Indeed, the council's recent hearing on the attorney general proposal didn't even stir debate on the issue of prosecutorial and judicial authority and was never intended to. Actually, it was a pretentious and well-orchestrated discussion on voting rights vis-a-vis such predisposed voices as the D.C. Bar, the American Civil Liberities Union and the David Clarke School of Law that bastion of liberal thought whose namesake was the very proud and very liberal late council chairman. No doubt, these so-called advocates are dreaming up ways to burden D.C. taxpayers and encumber its bureaucracy.
The costs of running a judicial system would be extremely high certainly far more than the $200 million kicked around council chambers. As former U.S. Attorney Joe diGenova told the council: "I can assure you question No. 1 will be the cost and No. 2 will be in which ward the prison will go. Along with the rights come responsibilities."
Indeed, Congress can bet that three things will happen if it strengthens the District's home rule hand: Commuter taxes will be instituted, fees and penalties on everything will be increased, and the new prison will go in Ward 8. Whether the District can handle added responsibilities, however, remains to be seen.


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