Law in the Public Interest: D.C.’s New Attorney General, Brian Schwalb 

The Office of the DC Attorney General (OAG) is unique. Unlike many other cities, the District’s residents elect their AGs. And the position as the city’s “chief legal officer” is not designed simply to apply the law dispassionately from on high, but to use it as a tool to “uphold the public interest.” 

At the Washington Convention Center on Jan. 3, alongside Mayor Muriel Bowser and other recently elected D.C. officials, former trial attorney and partner-in-charge of Venable law firm’s office in the District, Brian L. Schwalb (D), swore his oath of office as the District’s second elected attorney general, following Karl Racine’s two terms in the position. Racine (D) had endorsed Schwalb to succeed him. The OAG with its broad-sweeping powers is comprised of approximately 275 attorneys and 300 other professional staff members. 

We spoke with Schwalb about what inspires him in his role as the District’s AG, his key priorities and challenges, and how his role might affect Georgetowners. 

Schwalb is “committed to fighting for D.C., advancing the public interest, and ensuring that the law works to make the District safer, healthier, and more equitable for all who live and work here,” according to the OAG.  


A third-generation Washingtonian, Schwalb earned his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1992, completed a two-year judicial clerkship, and then served as a trial attorney in the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Then, entering private practice, he represented clients in a “multitude of high stakes matters including advocating for people injured by excessive, unconstitutional police force, defrauded out of their assets, and fighting for their lives on death row.” He served as a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and became “an experienced law firm leader, having served as Venable’s firm-wide Vice Chairman.” Schwalb and his wife Mickie Simon “live in Ward 3 where they raised their three daughters: Jessica, Allison and Sydney,” each having attended D.C. public schools. 

We asked Schwalb what inspires and prepares him for his role as the city’s AG. “My wife and I raised our three daughters here in Washington and I love this city,” he said. “And I firmly believe this is the greatest city in the world to live in for a variety of reasons. I think the challenges that Washington, D.C., confronts are challenges that the law is uniquely equipped to address and make better.” 

So, what are some of the city’s biggest challenges?  

The City’s Biggest Challenges

“I believe it’s the gap between those who are enjoying the prosperity and the abundance of resources we have in our city and those who aren’t,” Schwalb said. “And the opportunities those resources create are not shared equally across the city. So we have a widening gulf of income, wealth, and access to health care and healthy food and the ability to create intergenerational wealth that some, but not all Washingtonians have. So, the opportunity to put the law to work in furtherance of the city I love… I hope helps me do this awesome job as well as I possibly can.” 

Top Priorities

Schwalb outlined his four top priorities as AG. Each is intended to address the “root causes” surrounding social dislocation, poverty, and crime that often undermine the social fabric and contribute to residents’ legal struggles.  

The first is using the law to help the children in the city thrive. “Making sure we raise children in our city to be safe and independent and healthy and hopeful,” he emphasized. “Our future is dependent on young people continuing to grow and stay engaged and live hopeful lives. Hopeful kids are healthy and safer for themselves and those around them. I’m the [city’s] chief juvenile justice prosecutor but I don’t think the [OAG] should be having its first interaction with young people when the police may be charging them with a crime.” Second, is “closing the equity gaps in our city, … making sure all people who live in Washington have the same kind of access to opportunity and income and wealth and good jobs and health care.” Third is “protecting core democratic values,” such as “standing up against hate, White supremacy, anti-Semitism and homophobia.” And “right now, fighting for Home Rule and [D.C.] statehood are of the utmost importance.” Schwalb’s fourth priority is to continue to build “institutional excellence within [the OAG] …  to make sure we’re providing the kind of legal counsel and legal services to the city and to the residents and to the public interest that people who live and pay taxes in the District of Columbia deserve.” 


Under Schwalb, the OAG has launched a variety of legal initiatives, focusing intensively on consumer protection, senior abuse, housing instability, homelessness and stemming the flow of youth entering the juvenile justice system. For Schwalb, the issues are interlocking. Extremely uneven wealth distribution across the city can lay the groundwork for social dislocation, domestic violence, substance abuse, and housing instability which can spur poverty, homelessness and crime.   

Much of the AG’s work is to find legal remedies to protect the city’s vulnerable. “On the consumer protection front, we’re doing a lot of very important work to protect consumers, to protect workers. You may have seen we recently pushed out a consumer alert to people in the District regarding restaurant fees to make sure that consumers who dine out at restaurants understand what their rights are with respect to being charged fees in addition to the cost of the food. [This is] all part and parcel of what I think the Attorney General has to do in terms of protecting the public interest.”

On the city’s response to the proliferation of homeless encampments, Schwalb describes the balancing act between the city government ensuring public health and safety and the challenges of placing unhoused residents in homes versus the need to guard the civil rights of residents experiencing homelessness. “There are sometimes unfortunate situations where people are living without stable homes, and it can create public safety or quality-of-life concerns for people living in the city. And I think the government and the mayor try to respond to those things as best as they can. But, I do think it’s a balance because we have to recognize the fundamental humanity in all of us. It hurts my heart when I see people living without shelter.” 

The root causes of homelessness are well-understood by Schwalb, however. And the OAG is taking proactive legal steps to address issues of homelessness. “There are many reasons people are living outside without homes or houses,” Schwalb said. “Sometimes it’s because the conditions of their housing were so deplorable that it’s actually safer for them to be outside than to be living in deplorable housing. That’s an unacceptable reality and we’re using the law as aggressively and effectively as we can to make sure we’re taking on slumlords and landlords who are not making sure the housing is code-compliant and safe. Some people are living outside because they’re fleeing domestic violence…. And obviously the government needs to step in and protect those root causes that might cause oftentimes a young mom with kids to be experiencing homelessness because they’re trying to get away from domestic violence. We have a lot of LGBTQ young people who’ve been tossed out by their families. You know, they’re living without homes but for a different kind of reason. And then of course we have people who are mentally ill or suffering from substance abuse challenges where that’s a different population that could be wrestling with experiencing homelessness. So, I feel like, if you start by looking at the humanity of every person, then we ask ourselves “why is it that these particular folks are living without homes right now?” you might find some better solutions for people.” 

Addressing Gun Violence

The OAG also faces the issue of gun violence across the District. “Addressing the epidemic of guns is a big, big challenge for the city,” Schwalb said. So, the OAG is stepping up gun-related prosecutions. Getting “ghost guns” off the streets is a high priority. His agency has “brought a civil action against” Polymer 80, a manufacturer of kit-guns. And the OAG’s violence interruption program – Cure the Streets – is working in 10 different sites across the city. The OAG is also carrying out “a lot of defensive Second Amendment litigation to try to preserve [the District’s gun control] laws like prohibiting guns on the Metro or… in a house of worship.” And, they’re enforcing the city’s nuisance statute which requires property owners to “take steps to eliminate or ameliorate” crime tendencies in places where “gun crime, drug crime or prostitution crime” is regularly occurring.  


Addressing the public interest of Georgetowners is also on Schwalb’s radar. “One of the things I hear most from people whenever I’m in the city, whether it’s in Georgetown or any other neighborhood, people are scared of being the victim of a crime,” Schwalb said. “Nobody should ever have that happen to them. It’s a terrifying experience. And I think it’s incumbent on everybody elected in government to do what we can to address gun violence… Public safety is a high priority and that’s something that’s very much on the front of my mind. Georgetown is home to great neighborhoods, great restaurants, people want to be out shopping, and enjoy Georgetown, so making sure people feel safe in their neighborhoods is an essential goal of [the OAG]. And sometimes that’s addressing crime after it happens. But, oftentimes, we make ourselves safer by stopping crime from happening before it occurs. And that’s the hard work the office is doing to address the root causes of crime in our city, to address some of the economic inequalities that oftentimes create an environment for crime to happen.”  

“It’s lifting up and celebrating our kids and changing the narrative around kids. It’s addressing housing instability. It’s protecting workers. It’s standing up against discrimination, it’s protecting people when they’re being taken advantage of. I think a lot of people in Georgetown like the waterfront and protecting the environment and the water is all part of our public interest mission too. So, hopefully, just as I’m out fighting for people across the city, people in Georgetown also feel that the Office of the Attorney General has their back.” 




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