Setting the Record Straight

In a March 31 Huffington Post blog post, local lawyer and aspiring Attorney General candidate Paul Zukerberg makes a series of inaccurate and defamatory comments about the responsibilities of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General and my leadership. While Mr. Zukerberg is entitled to his opinion, he cannot -- and should not -- distort the facts. I highlight here five of his most irresponsible misstatements.

First, contrary to Mr. Zukerberg's assertion, the District's Mayor is not the ultimate client of this office. The District of Columbia Government is our principal client, and the public interest of the District is the lodestar for everything we do.

Second, as Attorney General, confirmed for the position by the Council, I do not serve at the Mayor's pleasure, and, contrary to Mr. Zukerberg's suggestion, the Attorney General may be removed only for cause. A responsible attorney -- especially one hoping to run for this office -- would, presumably, not make such public mischaracterizations without checking the law.

Third, Mr. Zukerberg is egregiously wrong to write that this office approves payments to parties who are "friends of the Mayor." First, this office does not approve any sizable payments. Second, we do not operate in a vacuum. There is a process of review and approval for all settlements entered into by the District government and it is specifically designed to avoid the situation Mr. Zukerberg described in his blog. In settlements of litigation which we negotiate and recommend, any alleged relationship to the Mayor has never been a factor.

Although Mr. Zukerberg offers no facts to support his assertions, he may be alluding to a three-year-old civil case involving the company then controlled by Jeffrey Thompson, in which career lawyers and the Department of Health Care Finance and independent outside actuarial experts all supported a settlement based on weaknesses in the District's legal position. An express condition of that settlement, for which the District paid $2.25 million, was approval by the federal government and could not have been achieved without its involvement because it paid the remaining $5 million. This resolution was decidedly in the D.C. taxpayers' interests, and saved the District from significant judgments had the matter proceeded to trial. At the time of the settlement there was no suggestion and no knowledge of anyone in this office negotiating or recommending it, including myself, that Mr. Thompson had contributed to the Mayor's campaign or had any relationship to the Mayor.

Fourth, his blog alleges that my office and I "obstructed" a federal investigation. If true, this would be a criminal act. Again, Mr. Zukerberg does not let the facts get in his way. In the investigation to which he is referring, my office turned over thousands of documents to the U.S. Attorney and negotiated with federal prosecutors the disclosure of additional documents in a way that protected the District's attorney-client privilege, a privilege that is long-recognized by the courts and is one of the most important in our legal system.

As a criminal defense attorney, Mr. Zukerberg is well aware of the privilege and its purpose and knows that the assertion of a recognized privilege, including this one, is not "obstruction" or in any way improper. To claim that the assertion of a valid privilege is tantamount to an obstruction is disingenuous and unfair. More to the point, his comments do a serious disservice to the public's understanding of the role of the government lawyer.

Finally, Mr. Zukerberg makes the irresponsible argument that an Attorney General who is appointed and not elected "facilitates corruption." While again failing to offer any support for this view, Mr. Zukerberg ignores the tenures of such distinguished former heads of my office (also appointed) as John Payton, Fred Cooke, Judge John Ferren, Robert Spagnoletti and Charles F. C. Ruff, and of the other appointed Attorney General in this city, US Attorney General Eric Holder. His cavalier approach to make such an assertion without referencing any act or omission by a leader of this office -- now or in the past -- is disturbing.

Mr. Zukerberg is free to argue his legal case in court (where he has repeatedly lost and still persists in an appeal) or in the media regarding the timing of the election of an Attorney General in the District. In doing so, he should not be entitled in the Huffington Post or anywhere else to distort and misstate facts. His willingness to do so suggests that he is not worthy of the position he seeks.