Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A starkly divided D.C Council voted to approve the permanent appointment of Peter J. Nickles as the city’s attorney general on Tuesday after long and arduous debate.

The council voted 7-5 in favor of Mr. Nickles, with council member Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, voting present.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, lauded the move.

“[Mr. Nickles’] impeccable legal knowledge and ability, coupled with his unrelenting desire to serve the residents of the District, makes him an excellent choice for the position,” the mayor said in a statement.

Those in favor described Mr. Nickles as a capable lawyer with considerable experience and skill in building a law firm. Council members who opposed him criticized his judgment as acting attorney general as well as his closeness with Mr. Fenty, to whom he previously served as general counsel.

“The office of the attorney general is to be the city’s lawyer, not the mayor’s lawyer,” said council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat who voted against the nomination.

The decision comes a day after the Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary tried to block Mr. Nickles’ appointment, signaling a deep division in the council about the city’s acting legal chief.

The committee issued a 20-page report that sharply criticized Mr. Nickles for his involvement in the firing of some city officials and, more important, accused him of putting the interests of Mr. Fenty above those of D.C. residents.

“Mr. Nickles’ tenure as acting attorney general is replete with actions and statements that show he regards his primary responsibility to be to the mayor,” the report said. “The energies of this office should not be spent pursuing a partisan agenda.”

Mr. Nickles was commended in the report for taking on slumlords and updating city regulations.

But Mr. Mendelson said Mr. Nickles has shown “questionable judgment,” noting his firing of the lead attorney on the D.C gun-ban case before the U.S Supreme Court. He added that Mr. Nickles “exceeded the authority of his office” when as general counsel, he ordered then-Attorney General Linda Singer to stop work on a lawsuit against Bank of America for its role in cashing fraudulent checks issued by the D.C Tax Office.

The report also said that Miss Singer reportedly left her post because of interference from Mr. Nickles and made an issue of the fact that Mr. Nickles has continued to live in Virginia since he began working for the city in 2006.

David A. Catania, at-large independent, who voted in favor of the appointment, said that to believe Mr. Nickles was not qualified to be the city’s attorney general “is the most absurd notion I have ever heard in this chamber.”

“He has been doing what attorney generals have been only been talking about for years,” he said, citing lawsuits filed by Mr. Nickles on behalf of the city against insurance giants CareFirst and Fizer, for failing to provide obligatory public benefits to D.C. residents.

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