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Gray nominates gay former D.C. attorney general as head of ethics board

Robert Spagnoletti served as defense attorney for gay defendants in Wone murder case

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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.

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HME Consulting and Advocacy stands on frontline of LGBTQ policy

Heidi Ellis is a consultant who doesn’t take clients ‘not aligned with my mission’

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‘Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,’ says Heidi Ellis. (Photo courtesy of Ellis)

September is here, which means Congress and the D.C. Council return from their August recess and life for consultant Heidi Ellis quickly gets busy. 

Her days are filled with negotiating with Council members, phone calls with clients, and policy planning for advocacy groups. The organizations she represents are looking to her to help them push policy and she hopes to guide them to victory. 

Ellis’s company, HME Consulting and Advocacy, came after years of working in the public and private sectors as a consultant. In 2019, Ellis decided to shift her focus to work that stood at the center of the intersections in which she lives. She sought to figure out how she could better serve her community as a Black queer Latino woman. Ellis recognized that there was a niche for mission-driven consulting in the District. 

“I was sought out and recruited by a lot of organizations that wanted me and I took a beat, because I was like ‘Do I want to go back into a machine where even if I do effect change, I have to answer to someone?’”she said, in reference to consulting agencies that were in pursuit of her talent. Ultimately, she decided against continuing her work under another company. “By doing what I do, I have much more flexibility for one to say ‘Yes’ but also to say ‘No’.”

Although Ellis has considered going back to working in the corporate space, she still loves the flexibility of being able to be nimble as a private consultant. 

Although Ellis doesn’t work entirely in the advocacy space, her consulting clients still align with her personal values. She joked that she differs strongly from the stereotypical money-driven D.C. consultant who sports Brooks Brothers suits on K Street. 

“Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,” she said. “I don’t take any clients that are not aligned with my mission.”

Her mission is simple, Ellis is “committed to elevating issues that sit at the nexus of education, mental health, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color.”

“The more marginalized you are, the more you suffer from the failures of policy and the gaps of service,” she said. 

As a consultant in the advocacy space, Ellis does the behind-the-scenes work for organizations to help correct these policy failures and close the gaps. Whether she is facilitating training for companies to better understand how to serve their LGBTQ communities, or she is on the frontline of education policy changes –– Ellis aims to only do work that she is passionate about.

She said that the balance of her combined passion and level-headedness help her to build trusting relationships with her clients and in the end, “Get stuff  done.”

Since starting her organization, some of her proudest work has been done with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition. The coalition is made up of more than 30 organizations that aim to advocate for investments and policy changes that affect LGBTQ lives. As a leader of this coalition, her services include policy support, facilitation, training, initiative development and organizational redesign. Since she began leading the coalition, they have raised more than $5 million of investments in LGBTQ programs.

Later this fall, she will work with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition along with the ANC Rainbow Caucus to convene the first LGBTQ+ Housing Summit from Nov. 29-30.

“The one thing we all recognize is that housing is the common denominator of every other social affliction facing LGBTQ communities,” she said.  

At the summit they will focus on the barriers within the current housing system and explore revitalized approaches to dealing with the current housing market. To pre-register for the event, visit the LGBTQ+ Housing Summit website.

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Comings & Goings

Former D.C. resident opens art gallery in San Francisco

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Jonathan Carver Moore

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success.

Congratulations to Jonathan Carver Moore on opening his contemporary art gallery in San Francisco. The gallery specializes in working with emerging and established artists who are BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and women. As the only openly gay Black male-owned gallery in San Francisco, Moore is committed to amplifying the voices of the often-underrepresented artists through a Black queer lens. He said, “I want the gallery to be a place where the LGBTQ+ community and people of color walk inside and see themselves knowing that they belong. I want us to be able to collect work from and support underrepresented artists who are often overlooked, but add some much value to our culture.”

Moore is also the founder of ARTUCATED, a digital journal that helps share, spotlight, and educate people about marginalized artists. Previously he was director of Donor Relations, Partnerships & Programming Director with the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco. He was Communications Manager, Rosenberg Foundation; and Associate Director of Public Relations, Out & Equal, San Francisco Bay Area. 

Moore earned his bachelor’s in Sociology, Women’s Studies, from George Washington University in D.C.; and his master’s in Public Relations, Advertising and Applied Communications, also from George Washington University.

Congratulations also to Jim Bobick on having his paintings included in a permanent collection by Saks Fifth Avenue. He said, “I am thrilled Saks Fifth Avenue chose my art for its permanent collection. I have long been a customer of the store and an admirer of the fashion designers represented there. I am especially pleased to know my work is on public view in the Chevy Chase, Maryland store. Not only did I grow up in the area, for part of my education I attended art school nearby, where I had the good fortune of studying under the notable painter Allen Dester Carter of Washington, D.C., whose work is in the Smithsonian collection. My ties to the Washington area art scene and my love of Saks makes this professional moment especially important to me. I am grateful and honored the store chose my paintings for their collection.” 

He has had numerous exhibitions of his work, including: Gallery 101 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (solo); Coral Springs Museum of Art, Coral Springs, Fla. (group); Studio B “Delicacies” Washington, D.C. (group); Columbia Art Center “Abstract Paintings” (solo); and Gallery 50 “Freestyle” (solo) Rehoboth Beach, Del. He has been written about in several publications including Michael Mills, Jim Bobick Creates Landscapes of the Mind at Gallery 101, New Times; Arterpillar South Florida Arts Blog; Stefan Braham, Eclectic Expressions, Coastal Style Magazine; Artist Looks Beyond the Temporal Beauty, Coast Press.

He earned his bachelor’s in Visual Arts, University of Maryland, College Park, Fine Art; and attended the Maryland College of Art and Design. 

Jim Bobick
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Arts & Entertainment

2023 Best of LGBTQ DC Readers’ Choice Award Finalist Voting

Vote for your favorite finalists through October 2nd!

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It is time to celebrate the best of LGBTQ+ DC! You nominated and now we have our finalists. Vote for your favorites in our 2023 Best of LGBTQ DC categories through October 2nd. Our 2023 Best of LGBTQ DC will be announced at the Best of LGBTQ DC Awards Party on October 19th and our special issue will come out on Friday, October 20th.

Thank you to our sponsors: ABSOLUT, Heineken, PEPCO, Shakers, Infinite Legacy.

VOTE BELOW OR BY CLICKING HERE!

ARE YOU A BEST OF FINALIST? DOWNLOAD ASSETS HERE!

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