Loose Lips

ANC Recording Caper Will Cost District $58K


How might the District spend $60,000? Paying for a year of pricey college for an underprivileged student, maybe, or adding it to the streetcar money pit. Instead, thanks to a new settlement, the District will cough up $58,400 because of an allegedly deletion-happy Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.

The settlement ends the saga of ANC 5B member Carolyn Steptoe and her tape recorder. After Steptoe shut down an ANC meeting last year over alleged rowdiness over a liquor license, Brookland resident Conor Crimmins filed a Freedom of Information Act request for an audio recording Steptoe had made of the meeting. Crimmins wanted to find out if the meeting was so rambunctious it merited an early adjournment.

Even a judge's order forcing Steptoe to hand over the recording wasn't much help, though, because by the time Steptoe handed over the tape recorder to Crimmins' lawyer, the audio had mysteriously vanished. In April, Superior Court Judge Michael O'Keefe ruled that it was "more likely than not" that Steptoe was behind the recording's disappearance.

Crimmins' attorney, Don Padou, looks to be the biggest beneficiary of that settlement. $57,000 will go toward his legal fees, while $1,400 in sanctions against the ANC will cover the cost of recovering the deleted recording, which turned out to be pretty boring anyway. Even now, though, Crimmins says he's confused on why Steptoe had trouble handing over such a banal tape—and why the Office of the Attorney General fought on her behalf for so long.

“I'm more baffled by the OAG’s apparent inability to do a risk-reward assessment," Padou says. "This case should never have gone this long."

Steptoe announced Tuesday she's going to resign from her ANC post ahead of a move to Upper Northwest. In an email to LL, Steptoe maintains that she didn't delete the recording, offering the fact that she provided the recorder at all as proof of her innocence—never mind that it took a court order for her to do so. Despite the settlement, the matter isn't over. After ruling against the ANC in April, the judge in the case referred it to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution.

The settlement continues a losing streak for Ward 5's curiously lawsuit-prone ANC members. On July 9, another judge ruled that an ANC 5E commissioner's emails in a private email account were still subject to FOIA. Last month, outspoken ANC 5D commissioner Kathy Henderson lost a libel lawsuit fight with Bladensburg Road NE bar Jimmy Valentine's Lonely Hearts Club and now-defunct restaurant Capital City Diner, whose owners won with a whopping a $141,592.87 judgment against her.

Tape recorder photo by Shutterstock

  • ANC

    The concept of the ANC sounds good on paper, but they are mostly dysfunctional and the hecklers at the meetings are always the ones that have nothing constructive to say besides yelling.

    The whole concept needs to be scrapped.

  • NE John

    Honestly, who has time to even consider going to these meetings? [Note it only took 10 seconds to type that - got to go!]

  • Jeff

    You really have to wonder what sort of mental gymnastics go on in Steptoe's head for her to justify all of the crazy stuff she has done in the past several years. These aren't the actions of a sane person. Some part of me expects her to announce that its all been some kind of elaborate performance art piece.

  • Sherice in Northeast

    Here we go again. I've had conversations with Chairman Mendelson and a few Councilmembers regarding the urgency of restructuring and upgrading the ANC. It has lacked management, oversight and the necessary modifications to meet the demands of the ever-changing constituency across the city. In fact, it has become futile and has deadlocked. As a result, there's confusion, in-fighting, greed, sense of entitlement and a platform to drive self serving and personal political agendas. A complete overhaul of the agency is long overdue!

  • Kathy8

    Even though this all points to extreme dysfunction in the ANCs, I have hope that these lawsuits and their outcomes (rulings in favor of the public, despite the public cost involved) might actually represent the people of Ward 5 starting to take ownership of our democratic institutions in D.C.

    Now if the D.C. voting public could just be a bit more serious about fixing our local government when they cast ballots, we would end up with more competent representative government!

  • Censored

    Speaking of deletions, why did prince of pet worth delete the r + j piece?

  • Commissioner Carolyn C. Steptoe, 5B04

    Will - I note your piece's factual errors and omissions. Our full thread is below.

    From: Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04)
    Sent: Friday, July 25, 2014 10:57 AM
    To: Will Sommer
    Subject: RE: Lawsuit

    Hi Will -

    Thanks for your email. Given what I have already seen as your writings on this, I do not believe you will prep a balanced, objective piece. Still, for posterity's sake here's my take (again):

    I believe my impression of the case about my personal tape recorder(which is not an ANC tape) & the judge's orders remains the same as I sent you in April/below.

    You may write/reiterate if so inclined that, in response to my query to OAG in April 2013 about whether my personal tape recorder (used at the SMD meeting I adjourned as a result of the very disruptive, disorderly mob-like, unruly antics of 70+ attendees) is subject to FOIA, OAG replied in writing (in May 2013) that (1) my personal tape recorder is not subject to FOIA (they cited Secretary of State Henry Kissinger case) and (2) OAG indicated that the April 2013 SMD meeting within which I used my personal tape recorder is not recognized by DC Home Rule Act or other DC regs. as a bona fide DC gov't meeting. In spite of that however, (3) I volunteered to the court my personal tape recorder when I testified. My recorder was
    not subject to subpoena nor was I obliged to provide it. I
    volunteered the recorder since I have/had nothing to hide. Why not provide it voluntarily to the court?

    But, why the judge ruled counter these facts as he did is anyone's guess. One never knows about a judge's ruling or judicial perspective. It's a crap shoot - which is, of course, the basic nature of judicial proceedings. Lower court rulings are why higher courts/appeals courts exist. OAG and Office of Solicitor General settled w/o further appeal; that's their call too.

    Have a great summer Will!

    Very kind regards,

    Commissioner Carolyn C. Steptoe
    Single Member District 5B04
    Vice Chairperson, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5B

    From: Will Sommer [wsommer@washingtoncitypaper.com]
    Sent: Friday, July 25, 2014 10:04 AM
    To: Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04)
    Subject: Re: Lawsuit

    Hi Carolyn,

    In light of the lawsuit being settled, I'm writing another story about the ANC tape. Would love to talk (I'm at 703-863-1148) or get your impression on the case via email if that works better for you.


    On Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 4:35 PM, Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04) <5B04@anc.dc.gov> wrote:

    Hi Will -- Thanks so much for your email. Unfortunately, my time is limited but, I did want to respond quickly to you. I can only say that, with all due respect to the court, I strongly disagree with all Judge's O'Keefe's rulings in this audio FOIA case; his earlier
    > rulings that (1) SMD info meetings are bona fide DC gov't meetings nothing in DC Home Rule Charter and DC statute even acknowledges SMD meetings or info sessions and that (2) an ANC commissioner's personal effects and property (in this case, my audio recording device) are subject to public grabs under the auspices of public
    availability under FOIA in the course of ANC duty. Does that mean my car, home computer, phone, even house are subject to FOIA because they are used in the course of performing unpaid ANC work there? As unpaid entities, most ANCs citywide use their personal effects in the course of ANC duties. Interestingly though, both the SMD and personal property queries were substantiated to me in writing by OAG (the former also by the Office of the ANC) in late April/early Mary 2013 when this audio FOIA matter first arose (which I presume this court was aware) so, I am confused how these rulings occurred and this matter got this far.

    However, what is most disturbing now is the judge's recent order which says - in none to subtle terms - that I deliberately disobeyed/destroyed court order by deliberately destroying property and worse, that I perjuryed under oath. What??? I volunteered to the court my tape recording device. I was not ordered nor subpoenaed to bring it. I voluntarily brought it to court and offered it to the court in the course of my testimony. No reason not to since I function in good faith as a dutiful, knowledgeable citizen.

    Suffice it to say then, as a personal affront to my character and professional disposition and in conjunction with the judge's other rulings in this FOIA case, yes, I am disappointed, shocked and continue to strongly disagree with Judge O'Keefe's rulings in this matter.

    Apologies if this is cryptic but I did want to provide you a response. Thank you again.

    Very kind regards,

    Commissioner Carolyn C. Steptoe
    Single Member District 5B04
    Vice Chairperson, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5B

    From: Will Sommer [wsommer@washingtoncitypaper.com]
    Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 1:48 PM
    To: Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04)
    Subject: Lawsuit

    Hi Commissioner Steptoe,

    My name's Will Sommer, and I'm writing a story about the recent court ruling in your FOIA case. I'd love to talk with you when you're available today, my number's 703-863-1148.

    Thanks for your time

    Will Sommer
    Loose Lips Columnist, Washington City Paper

  • Jeff

    "I volunteered to the court my personal tape recorder when I testified. My recorder was not subject to subpoena nor was I obliged to provide it. I volunteered the recorder since I have/had nothing to hide. Why not provide it voluntarily to the court?"

    If by "volunteered," you mean you turned it after after a subpoena was issued requiring your testimony regarding the mysteriously vanishing recording, then yes, you "volunteered" the recorder to the Court. The reason you turned it over was because, after deleting the recording, you believed that the absence of the recording on your device would absolve you of any responsibility. You did this without knowing that a forensics expert would be able to review the device and determine that the recording was manually deleted. You took the actions that you did because you are a bad person, and you thought you could manipulate judicial proceedings. Its really quite simple.

  • dukeofdc

    A deserved comeuppance for an arrogant and unhinged ANC. I am surprised she is abandoning Brookland, but it does reveal her true colors; serving for her own aggrandizement. Gonna try to run for ANC in Ward 4, Carolyn?

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