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At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson today engaged in a round of epistolary warfare with D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles. The topic of the skirmish was a brewing conflict between the council and Nickles over the D.C. Jail’s inmate-release policies.

The background: Several years ago, the council passed legislation barring the jail from releasing prisoners deep in the night, on the grounds that it was unfair and dangerous for the inmates.

Then came a recent directive from Nickles, who demanded that the council rescind the rule, on the grounds that it is costing the city millions in court judgments. If the council fails to do so by March 4, Nickles is threatening to declare it unconstitutional and direct jail officials to ignore it.

And boy, that got Mendo’s blood flowing. Mendo is the chair of the council’s judiciary committee, and a stickler for process and boundaries as well. Which explains the start of his Feb. 19 letter to Nickles:

“I am responding to your February 17, 2009 letter to Chairman Gray requesting repeal of the 10 p.m. curfew from the D.C. Jail. I am appalled.”

From there, it’s anger city, as Mendo tells Nickles, in effect, that he’s not the Supreme Court and can’t declare any law anything, including unconstitutional. He also tells Nickles that it’s his job to “uphold” the laws of the city, and this is one of them. He also tells him his analysis is flawed. He also tells him…well, check out the pdf.

By Mike DeBonis