HOW MANY VOTES FOR BARR? IT’S A MYSTERY

In the 2008 presidential election, 1,138 write-in votes were cast in Washington, but a federal judge ruled last week that city officials have no obligation to tell how many votes were cast for a particular candidate.

The Libertarian Party in 2008 nominated Bob Barr as its presidential candidate. Although Barr secured a spot on ballots in 45 states, according to the complaint, in Washington he qualified only as a write-in candidate. The District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics reports the total number of write-in votes, but does not report results for individual write-in candidates, unless write-in votes had an effect on election results.

Write-in votes made up less than 0.5% of votes in the 2008 presidential election in Washington, failing to meet the city’s standard for reporting the breakdown.

The party, represented by attorney Oliver Hall, sued the city in 2009, claiming that officials violated the First Amendment rights of the party and its supporters. Hall also said that not knowing how each candidate fared hurts the party’s ability to organize and build support. Judge Beryl Howell wrote on March 8 that there is no constitutional requirement to report individual tallies, provided they don’t have affect the election results. Hall said his clients are considering an appeal. — Zoe Tillman

DANGEROUS OR DUTIFUL?

Nossaman partner Paul Knight barely got a few words out when Judge Inez Smith Reid of the D.C. Court of Appeals interrupted to ask him to jump to the end: the sanction. Knight, representing former assistant U.S. attorney G. Paul Howes in a disciplinary proceeding, urged the court on March 8 to not disbar Howes for ethical lapses during the 1990s involving his use of witness vouchers. “This is a man who every day went to court, and his sole purpose was defending the citizens of the District of Columbia,” Knight said. Deputy Bar Counsel Elizabeth Herman, recommending disbarment, implored the court to use the case to set an example for all prosecutors. “No one questions that he wanted to win convictions,” Herman said. “That’s why he stepped over the line.” Reid, who heard the dispute with Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby and Senior Judge William Pryor, seemed to reject Knight’s argument that Howes was following office procedure in using monetary vouchers to pay individuals for information. The question before the court, Pryor said, is whether Howes’ apparent good-faith intent as a prosecutor justified his means. Herman said the court’s adoption of that “dangerous philosophy” would encourage prosecutorial misconduct. The appeals court didn’t immediately rule. — Mike Scarcella

HOUSE WORK

The House Office of General Counsel may need a little outside help soon. On March 9, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took the official step with his Republican colleagues of ordering House General Counsel Kerry Kircher to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in court. The move was expected after the Obama administration abandoned cases in the 1st and 2nd circuits, but it’s a big new task for Kircher. He became the House’s top institutional lawyer in January, and his office has six lawyers to handle the myriad tasks that come its way. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel didn’t rule out hiring outside counsel, but he said any decision would be made by Kircher, who did not return messages. Expected to last 18 months or longer, the litigation could get pricey, depending on who’s doing the work. — David Ingram

BLOCH-ED

It’s been nearly a year since former Bush administration lawyer Scott Bloch pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of lying to Congress. But Bloch’s sentencing in Washington’s federal trial court is still on hold. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson on March 9 refused to allow Bloch to withdraw his guilty plea. Bloch’s lawyer, Winston & Strawn partner William Sullivan Jr., said Bloch should be allowed to start over because Robinson failed to tell him about the charge’s mandatory minimum one-month jail term. Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Leon supported Bloch’s effort to abandon the plea deal. Bloch said in a recent affidavit that he never would have pleaded guilty had be known the contempt charge wasn’t probation-eligible. Robinson noted in her decision last week that Bloch, at his plea hearing in April 2010, said he knew he could receive a sentence of up to a year in prison. Bloch’s due back in court on March 14 for sentencing, but is unlikely to find out then his terms of punishment. Sullivan is expected to file court papers, before the hearing, urging Robinson to reconsider her refusal to allow Bloch to withdraw his guilty plea. In court last week, Sullivan said Robinson ignored “crucial precedents” — two other contempt cases in Washington that ended in probation. — Mike Scarcella

RETURN ENGAGEMENT

Charles Ogletree Jr. is coming back to a Washington courtroom. The famed Harvard Law School professor has signed on to represent Karl Rodney, a Caribbean-American media executive and philanthropist who is the only criminal defendant in one of Congress’ latest miniscandals. Prosecutors said Rodney covered up the fact that corporate money was paying for lawmakers to take junkets to Antigua, Barbuda and St. Maarten in 2007 and 2008. The lawmakers themselves weren’t referred for prosecution, while Rodney faces one count of lying to Congress. A plea hearing is set for April 14. Though Ogletree has gained a national profile from his work up in Cambridge, Mass., he shouldn’t have trouble finding his way around local court here. He worked for the D.C. Public Defender Service from 1978 to 1985, leaving as deputy director. — David Ingram

ENERGY STAR

Department of Energy General Counsel Scott Blake Harris has been named executive vice president for legal and external affairs for telecom company Neustar Inc. During his two years at the agency, Harris, 59, revamped the general counsel’s office to make it both more aggressive and open. The first chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s International Bureau, Harris went on to head Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s communications practice before launching his own firm, Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis (now Wiltshire & Grannis). At Neustar, based in Sterling, Va., he’ll oversee General Counsel Martin Lowen and Jerry Kovach, the company’s senior vice president for external affairs. The appointment is effective on March 14. — Jenna Greene