Lawyers from Reed Smith are stepping in pro bono to fight the D.C. Council's decision to delay the city's transition to an independent, elected attorney general.
The council voted Oct. 1 to push the election back from 2014 to 2018. Paul Zukerberg, a lawyer and former D.C. Council candidate, challenged the delay in court, arguing the council unconstitutionally ran afoul of the charter amendment approved by voters in 2010 calling for the first election to take place in 2014.
Zukerberg was serving as his own lawyer until last week, when Reed Smith partner Gary Thompson entered the case as Zukerberg's attorney. Reed Smith partner Marc Kaufman joined the case yesterday. Zukerberg said that when he started asking law firms earlier this month about taking the case, Reed Smith expressed interest and "was ready to jump up on such short notice."
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg is scheduled to hear arguments on Zukerberg's motion for a preliminary injunction on Nov. 7.
Thompson is an insurance recovery attorney, but pro bono is a significant part of his practice, according to his law firm bio. He was listed on the local court system's pro bono honor roll for performing at least 100 hours of service last year. Zukerberg said the firm brought election law experience that would be useful.
"I'm a solo practitioner, they have 1,500 lawyers worldwide," Zukerberg said. "It's like the cavalry comes at the last minute."
Thompson said he had done pro bono legal work in the past on local political issues, including an unsuccessful challenge to federal government limitations on the city's ability to tax nonresidents. He's a member of his neighborhood's Advisory Neighborhood Commission and has been involved with other community organizations. When Zukerberg called, “I said yes immediately,” Thompson said.
Councilmembers who supported delaying the election cited uncertainty about the scope of an elected attorney general's authority-attorneys general currently are appointed by the mayor-and the lack of declared candidates. The council initially voted to delay the election in July. Zukerberg filed his lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on Sept. 30, and the city moved the case to federal district court shortly after.
Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and Attorney General Irvin Nathan were opposed to the delay, but Nathan has said he believed the council did have the authority to postpone the election.
Thompson said in an email that the council "should respect the will of the DC Voters: we want an elected [attorney general] to improve the checks and balances on our city government."
Zukerberg acknowledged he might be interested in running for attorney general when the election finally does take place, but said was pursuing the case as a concerned voter. Zukerberg unsuccessfully ran for the D.C. Council earlier this year on a platform of decriminalizing marijuana. His criminal defense practice has specialized in controlled substances cases.