The D.C. Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday on Council member Kenyan McDuffie’s challenge of the city’s elections board’s decision to nix his bid for attorney general ahead of the June 21 primary.
At issue is whether McDuffie, a Ward 5 councilman since 2012, met city law requirements to be “actively engaged” as a lawyer for five of the past 10 years in order to run for attorney general — the argument made by Bruce Spiva, a fellow AG hopeful who first questioned McDuffie’s credentials.
The attorneys for McDuffie and the board made their cases to Judges Catharine Easterly, Loren AliKhan and Phyllis Thompson, with McDuffie attorney Baruch Weiss arguing that the board erred by not interpreting the law broadly.
“First of all, let me be clear we think the statute is unambiguous and written in plain language,” he said. “We tend to look at it inclusively.”
Easterly took issue with Weiss’ loose use of the words “engaged” and “employed.” She said the words have distinctly different meanings and it should be recognized as so.
Easterly said the “natural reading” of the statute is “not just that you have to be employed” by D.C., but that you have to be “employed, plus you are actively engaged,” WTOP reported.
AliKhan used the example of a hearing examiner as far as a qualification to be attorney general. Hearing examiners in the District don’t have to be lawyers.
“So, for your view, it’s ‘Are you doing attorney-like things?’” AliKhan asked Weiss, WTOP reported. “And I imagine a hearing examiner who’s opining on the law is drawing upon their legal expertise and experience in much the same way as you’re arguing Mr. McDuffie is. I don’t understand why how the statute defines a particular class of hearing examiners would be dispositive.”
Weiss said the statute does include McDuffie by utilizing a common-sense interpretation in that the lawmaker used his legal training and skills while on the council.
Pembroke told the judges the board interpreted the statute as written and the agency should be the determiner of how it is applied. Thompson said the statute is clear in its intent but questioned why the D.C. Council, when writing the law, put in the eligibility stipulations for attorney general.
The judges didn’t reach a decision by the end of the 90-minute hearing. Easterly said she and her colleagues were aware of the board’s Thursday deadline on candidate challenges but didn’t give a timeline for a decision.