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Get to Know Your DC AG Candidates

Washington DC Legal DC

For the first time, DC is electing its attorney general. We thought we'd get to know the five candidates before voting on Nov. 4.

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Here are the challengers debating at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law: former Venable chairman Karl Racine, political consultant Lateefah Williams, former federal lawyer and Hogan & Hartson lawyer Edward "Smitty" Smith, trial lawyer Paul Zukerberg, and Perkins Coie partner Lorie Masters. DC joins 43 states in electing its AG. It was a long process, starting with a referendum in 2010. The DC Council delayed the vote to 2018. Back and fourth litigation between the Council, current DC AG Irv Nathan, and Paul Zukerberg—who was fighting to keep the election this year—led the DC Court of Appeals to rule in favor of a 2014 election. Paul was the first to declare his candidacy.

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"The question is, who's gong to be able to bring that accountability to DC government?" asked Paul. During the debate, fellow candidates acknowledged his critical role in the existence of the election. There was also criticism—Lorie said that as a solo practitioner, Paul is unqualified to manage an office of 300 lawyers. ("It's not how many lawyers you have," Paul shot back, it's knowing what to do with them.) To Lorie's claim that Paul has only tried an average of four Superior Court cases a year, he said he's tried 104 cases in DC federal courts and more than 280 in Maryland state courts, with a winning record. He also advocated for marijuana decriminalization, which passed this year.

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Smitty (right, talking to UDC professor Edgar Cahn) grew up in Anacostia and went to Brown and Harvard Law before joining Hogan & Hartson. From there, he worked on Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, then spent time at Commerce and the FCC. Juvenile justice issues are important to him, and he says he supports better diversion programs, better tools for prosecutors, and more data collection. "What is not measured, is not done," he said. 

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Lateefah, a community advocate and former president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, has a background as a legislative and public policy lawyer. She emphasized her connection to the community and keeping the focus on its most vulnerable residents. If AG, she says she'd like to expand the office's power to the ability to prosecute all crimes in DC. (All adult felonies and some misdemeanors are handled by the US attorney's office.) She also talked about the need to keep minors in the juvenile justice system and not charge them as adults.

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"There's a leader in the race right now, and that's me," started Karl's opening remarks. He was Venable chairman for six years and says that heading the nearly 2,000-person firm gave him the management experience that is crucial to a DC AG. To questions from Lorie and Smitty about the two audits of Venable's billing practices, Karl said "Our billings were not fraudulent, and our service was excellent." A federal audit found that Treasury got everything it paid for and TARP "is absolutely an example of a client that was satisfied." In the other audit, with the DC Office of the Attorney General, "we made an appropriate accommodation." A former public defender and an associate White House counsel under President Clinton, Karl got Clinton's endorsement yesterday.

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"Do we want the status quo going forward, or do we want real change?" One of the reasons Lorie is running is to "bring real change and independence" to this office, saying that people in the District want an "independent voice" who can be a "clear check on the mayor and the Council." On the question of DC budget autonomy, Lorie's in favor. (She's worked on the issue for four years and has filed two briefs in the litigation.) Most of her fellow candidates agreed that they'd withdraw representation on this case, if elected. Karl said he would maintain the current posture of litigation, though he is in support of DC statehood and autonomy. We snapped Lorie, right, with Betty Sinowitz.

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In the packed Moot Court Room, we spotted UDC Law Dean Shelley Broderick catching up with Arent Fox government relations co-chair Jon Bouker. They're both on the board of DC Appleseed (Jon's the chair), which co-sponsored the debate, and Jon is on the law school's board. We'll see you at the voting booths in one week.