Loose Lips

Board of Ethics Could Subpoena Inspector General Over Documents Fight

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D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby is refusing to share evidence from investigations with the Board of Ethic and Government Accountability, board members complained at their meeting today. The bureaucratic turf war has gotten so bad that the board authorized its staff to subpoena the inspector general if he won't hand over documents.

BEGA is supposed to be able to initiate enforcement proceedings against city employees and political candidates caught violating ethics rules as a result of inspector general investigations. But the board's proceedings that concern targets of IG investigations—most recently, a Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs employee who allegedly abused a handicap parking placard—have foundered because, the board claims, it can't offer defendants reasonable discovery without the IG documents that caught the board's attention in the first place.

Willoughby is withholding the evidence, according to BEGA Director Darrin Sobin, because he says it compromises his independence.

"I've asked him several times to help me understand why that would be the case," says Sobin. "I still don't understand it."

Willoughby hasn't responded to LL's request for comment.

The dispute could affect several other BEGA proceedings that also involve the inspector general, according to Sobin. Because no defendant could be guaranteed a fair case if he couldn't see the inspector general documents that launched BEGA's inquiry, Sobin says he would have to stop any proceeding that involved the inspector general's office.

BEGA Chairman Robert Spagnoletti sas the relationship between BEGA and Willoughby has deteriorated since February, when the agencies were still on good terms. Recently, the inspector general has insisted that every communication between the two agencies go through his general counse, Spognoletti says. "The emails that I read had a high level of acrimony in them," board member Laura Richards says.

The dispute could also force BEGA to reinvestigate cases, a challenge for an organization that only employs two investigators.

In the short term, a potential subpoena could provide the documents for the case of the DCRA employee's handicap placard. If the inspector general's office refuses to obey the subpoena, BEGA could initiate enforcement proceedings against Willoughby to get the documents.

For the longer term, though, the board says it may have to ask the D.C. Council and Mayor Vince Gray to change the law regarding the sharing of documents.

"We're doing this over and over again, which is no way to be doing business," Spagnoletti says.

Update, 5:15 p.m.: Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie says a bill he introduced in the last D.C. Council session, the Universal Code of Conduct and BEGA Amendment Act, would resolve the impasse. McDuffie's bill would require city agencies to provide records to BEGA without a subpoena.

 Sobin says McDuffie's bill, which has already been co-sponsored or co-introduced by eight other councilmembers, would probably end the dispute with the IG. "I would've hoped that clarifying language wouldn't even be necessary, but we are where we are," Sobin says.

Comments

  1. #1

    There may be some conflicts in the statute concerning the role/power of the Office of Inspector General vs the new Ethics Office, which was imposed on the District during the oontrol board era. I recall a challenge to Mr. Maddox the IG then, by Councilmember Orange, years ago in which Orange lost his battle aginst Maddox in Superior Court.

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