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D.C. ethics board delays Jim Graham ruling

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,D.C. Council

The District's ethics board on Friday delayed a decision on whether to open a formal probe into Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham's conduct.

The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability met for more than an hour Friday, hearing a plea from Graham's lawyer, but ultimately put off a decision until next week.

The panel has been conducting a preliminary investigation of Graham since October, when a report commissioned by Metro found that he had acted improperly when he tried to tie his support for a development deal to his vote on the city's $38 million lottery contract.

Graham's lawyer, William Taylor III, on Friday argued that there was "no basis for a conclusion that there was an ethical violation" and questioned whether the panel had the jurisdiction to investigate Graham.

Taylor also urged the new board to avoid opening a formal probe so it can avoid becoming "the resort for people who are disappointed."

But Chairman Robert Spagnoletti said the board did not begin its preliminary review because of a complaint. Rather, Spagnoletti said the three-member panel decided on its own to review the matter.

Board's members at times appeared skeptical of Taylor's arguments and asked pointed questions about Graham's actions, including why developer Warren Williams Jr. was not a suitable fit for a Metro development deal but was a good candidate for the lottery contract.

"You ask where is the evidence of the improper motive," Spagnoletti told Taylor. "That's where it starts to creep in."

Taylor said, though, that he didn't view Graham's conduct as improper.

"This is said to be a quid pro quo," he said. "I don't view it that way."

Taylor also said Graham's actions, which he previously described as "sharp-elbowed political behavior," was hardly unusual.

Graham has adamantly denied wrongdoing and was not present for Friday's hearing.

Along with the ethics board, a federal grand jury is investigating the lottery contract. Graham has said, though, that authorities have not contacted him as a part of their probe.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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