Harry Thomas Jr. Makes Me Want to Spend $243 Million!

My ethically challenged councilmember makes me want to reclaim control over the District Court system and thus add at least $243 million in local expenditures to run the system (in FY11 the federal government paid $243 million for operation of the District’s court system). Recently, the District’s Attorney General filed a civil suit against the councilmember for inappropriately taking and spending over $300K targeted for youth sports on himself. Because the District’s Attorney General cannot bring criminal charges he could only file a civil suit for $1 million against the councilmember. Mr. Thomas just settled the suit on Friday and agreed to pay the city back $300K but has admitted no wrong. If folks are innocent until proven guilty I’d say paying back $300K makes him look as close to guilty as guilty can be. His only reported salary is his council salary at just over $120,000 per year and he must pay back all $300,000 by 2013. That’s a sizable chunk of his take home pay if he really only does have a council salary (thankfully the settlement prohibits him from running or managing another non-profit).

Our Attorney General did his job to the fullest of his abilities but he cannot file a criminal charge thus he had to refer the case to the US Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia. I want the District to take back control of our courts and give our Attorney General the ability to not just defend the city but prosecute those who violate laws within the city. At a minimum it would be $243 million added to our current budget but probably more. No locality wants to incur such new costs, however, it’s the right step forward toward statehood. We need to show that we can efficiently and effectively run our court system by both prosecuting and defending accused criminals.

Our Mayor should be nominating judges to the District’s court system not the president. Our council should be offering advice and consent on such nominees not the US Senate. We should not ever completely cut our financial ties with the federal government rather due to the structural imbalance (having the seat of national government here we are prohibited to taxing most of land and prohibited from taxing 60% of the income earned within the city’s boundaries) we should be getting more federal funds to support our governance operations. As I’ve written about before the District gets 25% of its budget from the federal government which trails behind several states as a percentage of federal funds supporting a local budget.

Mr. Thomas this week demonstrated what’s bad with some of our local politicians but on a larger scale demonstrated why we should take back control of our legal system. Our attorney general should not just be recouping the money from Mr. Thomas but he should also be able to bring criminal charges against him. Mr. Thomas is paying back $300,000 and saying it’s in the best interest of the city not an admission of guilt in the civil charges brought against him. I hope the US Attorney brings criminal charges against him but I wish we could have done it ourselves.

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