June 5, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gray nominates gay former D.C. attorney general as head of ethics board

Robert Spagnoletti (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has nominated openly gay former D.C. attorney general Robert Spagnoletti to serve as chair of the city’s newly created Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which is charged with investigating allegations of ethics violations by public officials and city employees.

Gray announced his decision to nominate Spagnoletti and two others to the three-member board at a news conference on Tuesday.

The nominations came nearly six months after the D.C. Council passed legislation in December creating the board following a public outcry over several widely reported allegations of ethical breaches by city officials, including officials with Gray’s 2010 election campaign.

“These nominees have extensive experience in law, public service and ethics as well as sterling professional and personal reputations in our city,” Gray said in a statement. “I have faith that they will serve the people of the District well in safeguarding the trust that our residents place in their elected representatives.”

The board’s responsibilities include investigating allegations of violations of ethics laws by D.C. government employees and public officials. The board is also responsible for issuing new rules and regulations concerning the ethical conduct of city employees and public officials and for conducting mandatory training on the city government’s code of conduct.

Spagnoletti served as the city’s attorney general under the administration of former Mayor Anthony Williams, who appointed him to the post. Prior to his term as attorney general, Spagnoletti served from 1990 to 2003 as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, where he became known as a skilled prosecutor.

After leaving office as D.C. Attorney General in 2006, Spagnoletti became a partner in the D.C. law firm Schertler & Onorato LLP, with a practice in both criminal law and civil litigation. He also served as president of the D.C. Bar.

Spagnoletti, 49, lives in the city’s Shepherd Park neighborhood with his partner and their two sons.

Gray nominated to the ethics board Republican attorney Laura Richards who recently retired as deputy general counsel and staff attorney for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and Deborah Lathen, a consultant, corporate lawyer and former official with the Federal Communications Commission.

All three nominees must be confirmed by the Council.

The legislation creating the board requires that no more than two of the board’s member can come from the same political party.

Bob Kabel, the openly gay chair of the D.C. Republican Party, called Richards, a Republican, “an excellent choice” for the position.

“The board is best served with a diversity of opinions and Mrs. Richards would bring just that,” Kabel said in a statement. “The mayor made a strong choice by nominating Mrs. Richards and we are thankful that he was inclusive of the District’s Republican Party when making his selection.”

In creating the board last December, the Council acted in response to calls from community activists and government watchdog groups for a re-writing and strengthening of the city’s existing ethics in government rules, which critics said were too weak.

Some of the same activist and groups criticized Gray for taking too long to nominate the members of the ethics board. Gray said he wanted to seek out the best possible nominees for the panel.

The nominations come shortly after a federal judge sentenced former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) to prison after he pleaded guilty to embezzling city funds. Last month, two former officials who worked on Gray’s mayoral election campaign pleaded guilty to election law violations. The two were accused of arranging for campaign funds to be used to clandestinely pay a mayoral candidate with no chance of winning to denounce and heckle former Mayor Adrian Fenty during campaign debates. Fenty was Gray’s main rival in the campaign for mayor.

D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) is also under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office for alleged campaign finance violations.

Spagnoletti surfaced in the news in 2011 when he served on the defense team in a civil case in which three gay men were named in a wrongful death lawsuit by the wife of slain attorney Robert Wone. The civil trial took place after the three men – Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky, and Dylan Ward – were acquitted on obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges related to Wone’s death.

Wone was found stabbed to death in the men’s Dupont Circle area townhouse in August 2006. No one has been charged with the murder.

The two parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which the defendants agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to Cathy Wone. Spagnoletti and the other attorneys declined to disclose the amount of the settlement.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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