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Updates in Betts, Wone murder cases

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Family of slain gay principal pushes hate crime prosecution

Lawyers representing the family of murdered D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts, who was gay, met with officials at the U.S. Department of Justice on Dec. 7 to reiterate an earlier request that the department investigate whether the murder should be declared a federal hate crime.

Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who has represented celebrities in high-profile cases, said after the meeting that she and co-counsel Rene Sandler asked members of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to determine whether at least one of the four teenagers charged in the murder violated the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

Allred noted that defendant Alante Saunders, 19, pled guilty to first-degree felony murder for shooting Betts to death and has been sentenced to 40 years in jail. But she said his use of a gay sex chat line to meet Betts and target him for a robbery could be grounds for initiating a hate crime prosecution.

“It is clear to us that a person who participates in a male-to-male sex-chat line would be perceived as gay and may be thought to be an especially vulnerable target for a criminal,” Allred said.

Sandler said the Justice Department officials promised to review the case and make a determination in the near future on whether to open a hate crime investigation in the Betts murder case. She said the meeting lasted more than an hour.

Betts was found murdered in his Silver Spring, Md., house in April. In addition to Saunders, two other youths implicated in Betts’ murder pled guilty to lesser charges. A fourth youth is scheduled to stand trial but is said to be considering accepting a plea bargain offer from prosecutors.

The chief prosecutor in the case has said the evidence doesn’t support a hate crime prosecution.

Gag order request denied in Wone case

The judge presiding over a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit filed against three gay men for the 2006 murder of local attorney Robert Wone denied the men’s request that all lawyers in the case be barred from speaking to the media.

Lawyers representing Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward argued that remarks made to the press by at least one of the attorneys representing Kathy Wone, wife of the slain attorney, were highly prejudicial and would make it difficult to obtain an impartial jury in the case.

They were referring to a comment by attorney Patrick Regan outside the courtroom earlier this year related to the defendants’ stated plan to invoke the Fifth Amendment to allow them to refuse to answer nearly all questions at their trial next spring.

Regan told members of the media that, “defendants don’t assert their fifth amendment rights if they are not guilty of something.”

The defendants are expected to argue that answering questions in the civil trial or during pre-trial depositions could incriminate them in a possible future criminal prosecution.

The three were found not guilty on charges of conspiracy and evidence tampering in connection with the Wone murder in a criminal trial earlier this year. No one has been charged with the murder.

In addition to denying the defendants’ gag order request, Judge Brook Hedge also denied a defense motion to dismiss the entire case.

Hedge denied a third motion by the defense requesting that the defendants’ lawyers rather than the defendants themselves be allowed to recite the Fifth Amendment as grounds for not answering a question each time the plaintiff’s lawyers fire questions at the defendants.

Under this ruling, Price, Zaborsky and Ward must state for themselves—while on the witness stand or in pre-trial depositions—that they are invoking their Fifth Amendment right not to answer a question.

Robert Wone was found stabbed to death in a guest bedroom in the Dupont Circle area home of the three men in August 2006. The men have said an unidentified intruder killed Wone after entering the house through a rear door. Police and prosecutors disputed this claim, saying evidence showed that no one entered the home at the time of the murder and that the three men know who the murderer is but are covering up for that person.

A D.C. Superior Court judge, who presided over the non-jury criminal trial, ruled that the government did not provide sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the three men committed the offenses with which they were charged—obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and evidence tampering.

Legal experts have said civil cases require a lower threshold of proof, making it possible that the three gay defendants could be found responsible for Robert Wone’s death from a civil standpoint. A jury must decide the amount of monetary damages the men would be responsible for if found guilty.

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District of Columbia

Gay ANC commissioner nominated for director of D.C. Office of ANCs

Confirmation hearing set for Oct. 12

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Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese (Photo courtesy of Boese)

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) on Sept. 19 introduced a resolution nominating gay law librarian and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese to become executive director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

The ANC Office director, who is nominated and confirmed by the Council, oversees the operations of the city’s 40 ANCs, which consist of nearly 300 commissioners representing single member ANC districts located in neighborhoods throughout each of the city’s eight wards.

Boese currently represents ANC Single Member District 1A08 in Ward 1.

Shawn Hilgendorf, staff director of the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations and Facilities, which has jurisdiction over the Office of ANCs, said Mendelson nominated Boese for the Executive Director’s position after the committee earlier this year accepted applications for the position and “interviewed a number of candidates.”

The Council’s Committee of the Whole, which is chaired by Mendelson, is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Boese on Oct. 12, Hilgendorf said. The committee consists of all 13 members of the Council. If it approves Boese’s nomination, as expected, the full Council is expected to then take a final vote on the resolution calling for Boese’s appointment.

Boese is a former president of the D.C. Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, which has since changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. In 2018, Boese ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat in the Democratic primary.

A resumé for Boese submitted to the Council at the time of his nomination says he has worked since August 2008 as a law librarian, manager of technical services, and manager of library services for the D.C. law firm Wiley Rein

Created under the city’s Home Rule Charter in the 1970s, ANCs serve as non-partisan, unpaid bodies that advise city government agencies on a variety of issues impacting neighborhoods, including zoning, trash collection, liquor license approval, and public safety. Although D.C. government agencies make the final decisions on these issues, they are required to give “great weight” to the recommendations of the ANCs.   

ANC commissioners are elected to two-year terms by the approximately 2,000 people who live in their Single Member Districts.

 The director of the ANC Office oversees the administrative affairs, including the budgets, for all of the ANCs. The position became vacant last year when its longtime director Gottlieb Simon resigned. The Council appointed Schannette Grant as interim executive director while it conducted its search for a permanent director.

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Maryland

Poll indicates Moore well ahead of Cox in Md. gubernatorial race

Democrat has 32-point lead over anti-LGBTQ Republican opponent

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From left, state Del.Dan Cox (R-Frederick County) and Democrat Wes Moore. (Screen capture of Cox via WUSA9; screen capture of Moore via WBAL TV 11 Baltimore)

A new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll shows Democrat Wes Moore is ahead of Republican Dan Cox by 32 points in the state’s gubernatorial race.

The poll, which was released on Saturday, shows 60 percent of respondents supported Moore, compared to only 28 percent who backed Cox. The Post and the University of Maryland surveyed 810 registered Maryland voters by telephone from Sept. 22-27.

The results mirror those of the 2020 election, when now President Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump in Maryland by 33 percentage points. The former president has endorsed Cox, who opposes LGBTQ rights.

While the poll reflects the candidate for whom Marylanders are more likely to vote, it also shows the one who is generally more liked. Fifty-one percent of respondents have a favorable opinion of Moore, compared to only 28 percent of respondents who said they feel favorably about Cox.

A Democrat from Baltimore County told the Post that she feels like Moore understand the issues of marginalized communities, 

“He is coming from an African American family and knows how hard life can be,” she said.

An Independent from St. Mary’s County told the Post they agrees with Cox’s opposition to teaching students about gender identity and structural racism in the classroom. The voter also said they feel Republicans can help the economy more than Democrats can.

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District of Columbia

Judge postpones ruling on whether Casa Ruby should be dissolved

Request by Corado for gag order to stop ‘one sided’ information denied

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A judge denied Ruby Corado’s request for a gag order in the ongoing case. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday said she was not ready to issue a ruling on whether the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby should be dissolved as recommended two and a half weeks earlier by a court-appointed receiver that took control of Casa Ruby’s operations.

Judge Danya A. Dayson stated at a Sept. 29 court status hearing that the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which filed civil charges against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado in July, needed more time to complete its investigation into Casa Ruby’s operations.

“We think it may be premature to immediately commence proceedings for dissolution while our investigation is still pending,” Cara Spencer, an official with the Office of the Attorney General, told the judge. “We’re still gathering information. We still intend to shortly serve discovery so we can bring it to a resolution promptly,” she said.

The AG’s office filed a civil complaint against Casa Ruby and Corado on July 29 alleging that the LGBTQ group had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act for the past several years. The complaint says improper actions by Corado, including the unaccounted-for expenditure of funds and a failure by the Casa Ruby Board of Directors to provide oversight led to a financial crisis.

The complaint notes that Casa Ruby employees were not getting paid and over $1 million was owed to landlords in back rent for at least three buildings Casa Ruby used for its offices and to provide emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

With Corado spending most of the past year in El Salvador, according to Casa Ruby employees, the employees and managers struggling to keep its operations going said they were forced to shut down all operations in late July.

Corado, who attended the Sept. 29 status hearing through a phone hookup, said she had yet to retain a lawyer due to a “shortage of funds.” She told Dayson she expects to finally retain an attorney but said she had not received a copy of the receiver’s report that recommended Casa Ruby be dissolved. One of the attorneys with the AG’s office told Dayson the office sent a copy of the report to four email addresses it had for Corado and Casa Ruby.

At the judge’s request, one of the AG office officials sent another copy of the report to Corado during the hearing to an email address that the judge asked Corado to provide.

Dayson on Aug. 12, at the recommendation of the AG’s office, appointed the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C. organization that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the Casa Ruby receiver. One day earlier, Dayson approved the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby be placed under receivership.

On Aug. 3, also at the request of the AG’s office, the judge issued an order that all of Casa Ruby’s bank accounts and financial assets, which had been under the sole control of Corado, be frozen. Dayson lifted that freeze after the Alston Foundation assumed control of Casa Ruby under the receivership.

As she had at the Aug. 11 court hearing, Corado stated in the Sept. 29 hearing that Casa Ruby’s financial problems were caused by the D.C. government withholding as much as $600,000 in grant funds for services Casa Ruby had provided.

Officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which initially approved the grants, have said some of the grant funds were withdrawn or cancelled because Casa Ruby failed to comply with the terms of the grants. In some cases, the officials said, required financial reports were not filed to substantiate how the funds were spent.

Corado also asked Dayson at the Sept. 29 hearing to order the receiver and officials with the AG’s office stop releasing “one-sided” information that she said was falsely placing her and Casa Ruby in a negative light through reports in the press.

“The story that has been painted is that Casa Ruby left the clients in the cold,” Corado said. “That is not accurate.”

When asked by Dayson what she wanted the court to do, Corado said, among other things, she did not want the receiver to be allowed to disclose information about what happened in the court proceedings that Corado said was being reported by the press inaccurately.

She said highly negative publicity resulting from the release of information from the previous court hearing resulted in her receiving death threats and damage to the engine of her vehicle in an act of vandalism that cost $1,700 to repair.  

Dayson said Corado appeared to be seeking a gag order to prohibit the receiver or the AG’s office from discussing or releasing information that was part of the public record. Saying there were insufficient grounds for such an order, Dayson announced she was denying a request to seal court records or issue a gag order against the receiver.

The judge ruled in favor of a request by the AG office attorney to file an amended complaint for the case, directing them to file the amended complaint by Nov. 28. Court records show that Dayson directed the parties to return to court for scheduling hearings on Oct. 28 and Jan. 6. 

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