Acting Attorney General for the District of Columbia Irvin Nathan has only been on the job since January, but he testified Friday that he is making “substantial progress,” settling more than 40 cases to date, easing dress policies in a nod to union requests and setting up meetings with private law firms to discuss pro bono opportunities to lessen the city’s caseload.
Nathan testified Friday afternoon before Councilman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on the Judiciary. The hearing was the first of three annual performance oversight hearings for public safety agencies.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray nominated Nathan in December. Nathan had served as general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007, and previously was a partner at Washington’s Arnold & Porter. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for March 23.
Mendelson pressed Nathan for ideas to cope with the office’s growing caseload, noting that the number of cases handled last year by attorneys in some divisions was more than double the preferred amount [.pdf]. In the juvenile section, for instance, the preferred annual caseload per attorney was between 75 and 100 cases; during the previous year, attorneys handled about 250 cases on average. In the criminal section, where the preferred annual caseload was 600 cases per attorney, attorneys handled about 1,900 cases on average.
Nathan stressed that in light of the city’s budget crunch, hiring new attorneys was out of the question for now; the office employs about 340 attorneys, according to its Web site. Nathan said he was meeting with local law firms to see if attorneys could do pro bono work for the city, an idea Mendelson greeted with some skepticism, noting that previous attorneys general for the city had pursued that solution in the past with limited success.
“I’m not suggesting it is the answer to all of our problems, but it is an answer,” Nathan said.
Mendelson expressed interest in moving authority over settlements from the city’s Office of Risk Management to the attorney general’s office in order to streamline the process. Nathan said he agreed and would look for opportunities to settle, but noted that the mayor ultimately has to approve settlement sizes for large cases.
Steven Anderson, president of Local 1403 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents staff attorneys, testified earlier on Friday that Nathan had “improved the morale” in the office. But, he added, the union still has several issues they need to hammer out with management, from finding an effective way to challenge firings to coming up with a revised purchasing system to hire expert witnesses.
Mendelson wanted to know when Nathan planned to finish negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the union. Nathan said he would not set a deadline for reaching an agreement, but would “do the best we can.” He pointed to several new policies he has already put in place in response to union requests, including a loosened dress code on days when attorneys don’t have to meet with clients or the public and increased opportunities for a flexible work week schedule.
A full recording of Nathan’s testimony can be found here.