Gay former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti faced questions at a City Council hearing on Monday over whether his private law practice representing corporations doing business with the city could hinder his ability to serve as chair of a newly created D.C. ethics board.
Mayor Vincent Gray on June 5 nominated Spagnoletti and two others to serve on the three-member D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. The City Council created the board last December in an effort to restore confidence in the city government following several widely publicized scandals and continuing criminal investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The investigations, among other things, led to the recent resignations of D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-large) and Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) shortly before the two pleaded guilty to various criminal charges involving financial improprieties.
Spagnoletti was highly acclaimed as a former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s office before being appointed by Mayor Anthony Williams as the city’s first Attorney General. Since leaving the attorney general’s post, Spagnoletti, 49, joined the D.C. law firm Schertler & Onorato.
Critics raising concern over his appointment to head the ethics board have pointed to Spagnoletti’s biography on the law firm’s website. According to the bio, Spagnoletti “regularly advises individuals and businesses on how to navigate a variety of legal issues through the District of Columbia government and negotiates on their behalf with District of Columbia agencies and officials.”
In testimony on Monday before the Council’s Committee on Government Operations, Spagnoletti said his ties to clients with pending business before the city government are limited and would not likely force him to recuse himself from cases pending before the ethics board. However, he said he would recuse himself in the limited number of cases where even an appearance of a conflict of interest would arise.
He acknowledged that he represented Gray as an attorney in a property-related matter involving a fence around Gray’s house prior to the time Gray became mayor. Because of this, Spagnoletti told the committee he would recuse himself from participating in a potential ethics case coming before the board involving the mayor.
Both the committee and the full Council are expected to vote on Spagnoletti’s nomination and on ethics panel nominees Deborah Lathen and Laura Richards sometime prior to or on July 10, when the Council meets for the last time before its summer recess.