- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

The District’s acting attorney general has fired the lead lawyer scheduled to argue before the Supreme Court in favor of the city’s gun ban, just days before attorneys are scheduled to submit a brief in the case to the high court.

Peter J. Nickles, whose controlling style as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s general counsel was thought to be responsible for the resignation of Attorney General Linda Singer last month, fired Alan B. Morrison last week. Mr. Morrison said he expects to have his office cleared out by Monday.

“I’m concerned for the city because I want the city to win this case …,” Mr. Morrison said yesterday. “It’s troubling.”

Mr. Morrison has argued cases 20 times before the Supreme Court. He was the former director of the District-based Public Citizen Litigation Group, which was founded by Ralph Nader in the 1970s, and was hired as special counsel by Mrs. Singer last year.

Mrs. Singer resigned Dec. 17 amid reports that she was frustrated with Mr. Nickles’ intrusions on the duties of her office.

In recent months, Mr. Nickles helped broker the city’s deal to sell Greater Southeast Community Hospital and took an active role in defending the District in court cases — moves that some say made him the public face of the District”s legal dealings instead of Mrs. Singer.

Mr. Morrison met with Mr. Nickles two weeks ago and was informed that he had been let go Friday through an e-mail from Deputy Attorney General Eugene Adams.

He said that he was not given a reason for the dismissal, but that two other staffers hired by Mrs. Singer — chief of staff Betsy Miller and director of communications and legislative liaison Melissa Merz — also are leaving the office.

In an e-mail to Mr. Nickles sent Saturday morning, Mr. Morrison asked whether he was mistaken in thinking that he was asked to leave because he was “Linda’s guy.” He said he had not received a reply by yesterday afternoon.

My understanding is that I was brought in by Linda Singer [and] they got rid of the other two people brought in by her in the immediate office,” Mr. Morrison said.

Mr. Nickles did not return a call or e-mail seeking comment yesterday.

In a statement, Mr. Fenty did not specifically address Mr. Morrison’s departure, but a spokeswoman said that his replacement had not been named and that Mr. Nickles would not be arguing the gun case before the Supreme Court.

The Legal Times reported on its Web site, at www.legaltimes.com, that Mr. Nickles was considering former acting U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger III and Akin Gump lawyer Thomas C. Goldstein, who are completing the city’s brief, as well as D.C. Solicitor General Todd Kim and others in the attorney general’s office as Mr. Morrison’s replacement.

“Peter Nickles’ expertise in litigation is going to greatly benefit residents of the District of Columbia in our handgun case pending before the Supreme Court,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat.

“It is important that he move quickly to build a team and a strategy to maximize our chances of winning this important case.”

Asked about the case two weeks ago when Mrs. Singer resigned, Mr. Fenty said: “Not only has that been handled well to date, it will be handled well in transition.”

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the gun-ban case in March, and a decision is likely by June.

The District is expected tomorrow to submit its legal brief in the case to the high court, a document Mr. Morrison called a “very collaborative” and “satisfying” endeavor.

Mr. Nickles, a longtime friend of the Fenty family, has been a lawyer since 1964 and was a former senior partner at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP.

He has argued against the District on behalf of city prisoners and received the Pro Bono Service Award from the D.C. Bar Association in 1998.

But the decision to dismiss Mr. Morrison drew criticism from some D.C. Council members.

Mary M. Cheh said she had heard rumors that Mr. Morrison might be let go but was unaware of the firing until she was informed of it by a reporter from The Washington Times. She called Mr. Morrison the “architect of our argument” before the Supreme Court.

“I hope it’s not just the new person coming in and cleaning house of people he didn’t bring in,” said Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and a law professor at George Washington University. “On its face, it seems like a bad move.”

Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the council’s judiciary committee, said the decision “makes no sense to me.”

“It’s like changing horses midstream and frankly worries me with regard to the handling of the gun case,” said Mr. Mendelson, who has called Mr. Fenty’s decision to name Mr. Nickles acting attorney general a “mistake.”

“If I was on the other side, I’d be taking some joy out of today’s events,” he said.

The dismissal also drew a call to fire Mr. Nickles from Mr. Nader, who co-authored a letter to the mayor criticizing the acting attorney general for blocking Mrs. Singer’s initiatives and dismissing Mr. Morrison.

“Your tenure as mayor will continue to be undermined so long as Mr. Nickles possesses such at-large power within the District government,” Mr. Nader said.

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