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“I don’t understand your approach today, coming in and throwing down the gauntlet.”
—U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, Feb. 6
As Peter Nickles pushed out Linda Singer as attorney general in early 2008, he privately agitated on a matter he knew intimately: how many city functions have long been in the hands of federal judges, not the mayor. Nickles, after all, had helped put them there, suing the city up and down during the Barry years. But now—-emboldened by evolving opinions on institutional reform litigation and a recent Supreme Court decision—-he has a different perspective: It’s time to take the agencies back. But is it? Nickles started the effort with the Child and Family Services Agency—a strange pick, considering it was only a year removed from a devastating failure, the Banita Jacks tragedy. His move to take back CFSA earned the above rebuke from federal judge Hogan, the agency’s judicial overseer. But that hasn’t chastened Nickles; as the year waned, he filed flurries of motions in cases involving special education, mental health, and more. Nickles’ project is certainly a work in progress: He appears to be on the cusp of returning control of the District’s school transportation system to mayoral control—a win to be sure. But control of CFSA seems to be a pipe dream, and another federal judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle, scolded Nickles in December over his move to dismiss a 33-year-old case involving developmental disability services. And then there’s Pershing Park: One set of plaintiffs are seeking a consent decree covering police practices, raising the prospect that Nickles might end his tenure with more court oversight, not less.