Summersgill backs Polikoff critique of OAG letter
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Summersgill backs Polikoff critique of OAG letter

From: Bob Summersgill
Sent: Friday, July 25, 2008 12:00 AM
To: Phil Mendelson
Cc:; Nancy Polikoff; Moore, Brian (COUNCIL); Rick Rosendall; Michele A. Zavos
Subject: Re: Bill 17-727

Councilmember Mendelson:

I would like to associate myself with Nancy Polikoff’s point-by-point refutation of the July 10, 2008 letter from Tonya A. Sapp, Director of Legislative Affairs, Office of the Attorney General denigrating bill 17-727, “Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Act of 2008,” domestic partnerships and the gay and lesbian community.

As Professor Polikoff shows, Ms. Sapp’s letter is ill-informed on basic points of law; federal programs, rule, and law; current case law, District forms, practices, and procedures; and even recent articles in the Washington Post. The quality of Ms. Sapp’s work is so poor that it calls for a review of her qualifications as a lawyer and review of the adequacy of her other work for the District. While Mr. Nickles is busy firing attorneys, Ms. Sapp needs to be considered for that ignominious honor.

Mr. Nickles’ judgment as an administrator must also be called into question. An opinion on a potentially politically sensitive issue or bill should rate higher scrutiny from the OAG. More than one attorney, knowledgeable on the issues, should be consulted, and facts checked. Tone and style should be reviewed to make sure that the opinion does not oppose basic positions of the Mayor, or reflect poorly on him and his administration. In this case, either no further review was conducted, or this is a deliberate attempt to embarrass the Mayor.

Ms. Sapp’s letter confuses legal parentage with biological parentage. The role of the law is not to define biology, but rather law. That should be self-evident to a lawyer. The focus on biology seems solely to denigrate any form of family other than a married man and woman and their biological children. Families, of course, take on a myriad of forms and technology has expanded the range of reproductive options dramatically in the past few decades.

Gay and lesbian people, as well as everyone else, do take advantage of every option to build their families. Our laws in the District have not yet expanded to ensure that the best interests of children are being met by establishing the legal ties, benefits, and obligations of parents to them. Ms. Sapp attempts to keep children in non-traditional families from being legally related to their parents. This must not be allowed to occur.

Ms. Sapp also denigrates domestic partners by treating them as unrelated or minimally related. As you know from your leadership in expanding the rights and responsibilities of domestic partners, they are in fact next of kin. Every definition of family in the D.C. Code includes domestic partners. Domestic partners are by their very definition in a familial relationship. Ms. Sapp is either so ignorant of D.C.’s domestic partnership laws that she is incapable of rendering a meaningful opinion, or she is willfully distorting the law. In either case, she should not be in a position to put forward an opinion of any kind for the OAG or the Fenty Administration.

I strongly recommend that you adopt the technical recommendations of Professor Nancy Polikoff and reject as legally and factually wrong the letter of Ms. Sapp. I also ask that you question Mr. Nickles at his confirmation hearing if he stands behind Ms. Sapp’s letter, and how the letter was issued from his office.

Please consider this letter as additional testimony on Bill 17-727, “Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Act of 2008.” Thank you.

Bob Summersgill

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