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District of Columbia

D.C. judge orders Casa Ruby placed under temporary receivership

Wanda Alston Foundation, Safe Haven being considered to take over

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Ruby Corado participated in Thursday’s hearing remotely. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday, Aug. 11, approved a request by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General to place D.C.’s LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby under temporary receivership to stabilize its finances and determine whether it can resume operating after it shut down its programs last month.

Among those who spoke at the virtual hearing was Casa Ruby founder and former executive director Ruby Corado, who said she did not oppose a limited receivership order. Corado spoke through an audio connection rather than appearing on video as did the judge and representatives of the Attorney General’s Office.  

Also appearing on video for the hearing were representatives of two LGBTQ organizations that the AG’s office has named as candidates to become the Casa Ruby receiver – the D.C.-based Wanda Alston Foundation and the Baltimore-based Safe Haven, which has announced plans to open a facility in D.C.

In response to a request by Adam Gitlin, chief of the AG office’s Public Integrity Section, Judge Danya A. Dayson agreed to give the AG’s office one more day to decide which of the two groups would be named as the Casa Ruby receiver. After listening to testimony by June Crenshaw, the Alston Foundation executive director, and Iya Dammons, Safe Haven’s founder and executive director, Dayson said either of the two groups would be acceptable to her as the receiver.

The judge directed the AG’s office to submit a proposed order naming the receiver by the end of the business day on Friday, Aug. 12.

Dayson’s ruling approving a receivership for Casa Ruby came eight days after she approved a separate request by the D.C. AG’s office calling for a temporary restraining order to freeze all bank accounts and PayPal accounts held by Casa Ruby.

The call for both the restraining order and the receivership were introduced in court by the AG’s office on Aug. 1 in an emergency motion asserting that both Casa Ruby and Corado had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act in connection with their financial dealings.

“Casa Ruby’s operations suggest clear patterns of gross mismanagement and poor oversight of its programs and finances,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement at the time the motion was filed in court. “Instead of fulfilling its important mission of providing transitional housing and support to LGBTQ+ youth, Casa Ruby diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars of District grants and charitable donations from their intended purpose,” Racine said.

He was referring to allegations in the AG office’s civil court filing that Corado used funds from the D.C. Casa Ruby to open a Casa Ruby LGBTQ shelter in El Salvador without any documented authorization from the Casa Ruby board of directors, which the court filings say rarely met and failed to provide oversight over Corado or Casa Ruby.

During the Aug. 11 virtual court hearing, Corado disputed the allegations, saying among other things, that claims that she was not in communication with the Casa Ruby board was a “misconception.”

Corado did not say in her remarks at the virtual court hearing where she is currently residing. Members of the Casa Ruby staff have said Corado had been in Salvador for most of the time this year and in recent weeks the staff was unable to reach her to discuss Casa Ruby related business. Staff members also reported that they had not been paid for over a month and a financial crisis prevented them from continuing any of Casa Ruby’s remaining programs.

In her comments at the Aug. 11 hearing, Corado said the funding crisis was caused by D.C. government agencies that she said failed to reimburse Casa Ruby close to $150,000 in grant funds that she said the city was committed to pay for services that Casa Ruby had already performed.

But email correspondence between officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which has provided most of the Casa Ruby grant funding, and Casa Ruby officials other than Corado, indicates the funding was withheld because Casa Ruby failed to comply with various grant requirements, including not having a functioning board of directors. One or more of the employees released the correspondence to the media.

“I believe that when the facts, as someone stated earlier, stop being allegations and actually become facts that you, Your Honor, will have an opportunity to understand the ramification of the allegations,” Corado said during the hearing. “There are people, including myself, who have received death threats over things that are not true,” she told the judge.

Gitlin of the AG’s office, while not specifically responding to Corado’s allegations, said his office has met the legal requirement needed to have Casa Ruby placed under receivership.

“In short, we do have reason to believe that Casa Ruby currently continues to be out of compliance with the Nonprofit Corporations Act, continues to be unable to meet its obligations, and its assets are in serious question,” he told the judge. “And so, we believe the requirements for the receivership statute have been met.”

He said the two groups under consideration to become the receiver are “both nonprofits in good standing with experience doing many of the services that Casa Ruby performed.” He added, “Both have pledged that even if they are not appointed receiver, they are happy to help because they care about the community that needs to be served.”

He concluded by saying the AG’s office would like whichever group is chosen as the receiver to “first assess the assets and liabilities that are outstanding for Casa Ruby, figure out whether a board can be reconstituted, and assess otherwise whether there is a path forward for the organizations.” Gitlin said the other option that the receiver should consider is whether its recommendation should be for “an orderly wind down in the way a nonprofit normally would” to end its operations.

Judge Dayson ordered that whichever group is chosen to be the receiver, which she was to approve the following day on Aug. 12, will be required to submit a report to the court on Sept. 13, 2022, on the status of its work. She scheduled a status hearing on the case for Sept. 29 at which time she directed Corado to arrange to have an attorney representing her.  

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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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District of Columbia

Whitman-Walker wins $280,000 grant to support LGBTQ immigrants

Providing legal resources for migrants facing persecution

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‘Having a lawyer can make the difference between having legal status and living in the shadows,’ said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health, which provides medical as well as legal services for the D.C.-area LGBTQ community, was among 25 community-based organizations to receive a grant from the D.C. government earlier this month to provide legal support for immigrants.

Amy Nelson, director of Whitman-Walker’s legal department, said the $280,000 grant it received from the city for 2023 marked the fifth year in a row that the city has supported its work in providing legal support for LGBTQ immigrants arriving in D.C. from countries in Latin America as well as Asia, Africa, and Europe.

“We help people file for U.S. asylum on grounds of HIV, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” Nelson said. “Most of our cases now are trans women from Central America,” Nelson told the Blade. “But we also have people from Cameroon, Russia, and Jamaica.”

She said Whitman-Walker currently has about 150 open cases, including cases handled by outside attorneys working on a pro bono basis.

Nelson said Whitman-Walker’s legal team has provided legal advice to some of the migrants arriving by bus to D.C. that the governors of Texas and Arizona have sent in recent months. But she said most of those arriving by bus from the two states plan to leave D.C. for other parts of the country.

A Sept. 16 statement released by the office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says the mayor’s fiscal year 2023 budget allocated a total of $3.5 million for grants from the city’s Immigrant Justice Legal Service (IJLS) grant program to 25 local organizations, including Whitman-Walker.

“Over the years, the IJLS program has not only benefited DC’s immigrant residents, it has also helped us advance our DC values and strengthened the capacity of legal services providers and pro bono attorneys,” Bowser said in the statement.

“Having a lawyer can make the difference between having legal status and living in the shadows, and I am incredibly grateful for the community organizations who have worked with us to make the IJLS program a success,” she said.

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District of Columbia

Bowser pledges continued support for LGBTQ community if re-elected

Mayor addresses local LGBTQ Democratic group

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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser addressed the Capital Stonewall Democrats. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reflected on her record of support for the LGBTQ community and pledged to continue that support if elected to a third term as mayor during an appearance Monday night before the Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group.

The mayor’s appearance at the virtual Zoom meeting took place a little over four months after Capital Stonewall Democrats endorsed her opponent, D.C. Council member Robert White, over Bowser in the June Democratic mayoral primary. The group later endorsed the mayor in the November general election after she won the primary to capture the Democratic nomination.

In a city with Democratic voters outnumbering Republicans and members of two other small parties by a lopsided margin, Bowser is considered the strong favorite to emerge as the winner in the Nov. 8 general election.

“I’m thrilled to be here and thrilled to be your Democratic nominee for mayor,” she told members of Capital Stonewall Democrats, which used to be known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

“We spent many months, the better part of a year, going across all eight wards talking to people about their priorities for Washington, D.C., and what the next four years are really about,” she said. “And I am proud of the eight years almost now that I’ve served as mayor and the things that we’ve accomplished. And more than that, I’ve kept my word about how we would pursue D.C.’s values and our goal to make our city a more inclusive city,” she said.

“I’m also very proud of the work that I’ve done with the LGBTQ community, not only as mayor but through my tenure of service in D.C. government, which now is a little over 15 years,” she said, referring to her tenure as a D.C. Council member before being elected mayor.

“In working with our trusted organizations, all of my agency directors, all the way through the people I have appointed to serve in our LGBTQ office,” she said. “We’ve been very focused on making sure that D.C. works for LGBTQ residents.”

The mayor added, “We continue to have a focus, for example, on making sure we’re protecting our trans community from violence. But more than that, creating jobs and job training opportunities inside and outside the government.”

After delivering opening remarks the mayor answered a wide range of questions that had been submitted by members of the group and presented by the group’s president, Jatarious Frazier. Among them was a question on whether the city will partner with another organization for services for LGBTQ youth, especially trans youth of color, after the recent shutdown of the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby.

“I think we have some work to do to replace the work that Casa Ruby was doing,” the mayor said. “And I’m quite frankly sad about that,” she said, adding, “We like when some work is done in the nonprofit community. And we will be looking for trusted partners to help us replace that work.”

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