D.C. Councilman Jim Graham plans appeal of ethics board slapdown

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Phil Mendelson,D.C. Council,Jim Graham

Frustrated by an opinion that prompted calls for his resignation and discussion of a formal censure by his colleagues, D.C. Councilman Jim Graham said Tuesday that he is "about ready" to challenge the ruling from the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability that said he violated the city's conduct rules.

"They acted beyond their legal ability," Graham said. "We believe there was a violation of due process."

He declined to say when he would file his appeal.

The city's director of government ethics, Darrin Sobin, told The Washington Examiner that he thought "the rules and the statue were followed and the result was what it was."

Graham, who has been the subject of persistent questions about his actions linked to the city's $38 million lottery contract, has been under heightened fire since the ethics panel said on Feb. 7 that it had evidence he had acted improperly.

The intensified criticism came even though the ethics board said it was powerless to punish Graham because the misconduct took place in 2008, well before the three-member panel was created.

"Given the substantial evidence that Councilmember Graham violated the District's code of conduct, we would vote to commence a formal investigation," the board said. "We decline to do so because the board is without the ability to sanction Councilmember Graham for his misconduct."

The board's ruling centered on allegations that Graham, who was simultaneously serving as Ward 1's lawmaker and as chairman of Metro's board, offered to tie his vote on the District's $38 million lottery contract to a company's agreement to withdraw from a Metro-linked development project.

Graham has vehemently denied wrongdoing, but Metro's board found last year that he had breached the transit authority's conduct rules.

Graham's lawyers immediately voiced concerns about the findings of Metro when they were released last year, and they issued an especially forceful condemnation of the ethics board's opinion, which said Graham's actions amounted to "a move to benefit ... a campaign contributor."

William Taylor III, Graham's lawyer, complained that the ruling was a "hypothetical decision" that was unfair to Graham because the veteran lawmaker wasn't given the opportunity to rebut evidence before the board disclosed its opinion.

The protests from Graham's camp, however, have not stopped D.C. lawmakers from weighing whether to discipline Graham.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said last week he was talking with members about the next step, but he pledged to "recommend some action." Mendelson said Tuesday he was still consulting with his colleagues.

But officials familiar with the conversations, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the council was likely to reprimand or censure Graham.

A federal grand jury is also reviewing the lottery contract, but Graham's lawyer said the legislator is not a target of the probe.

Examiner Staff Writer Eric P. Newcomer contributed to this report.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner