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Metro denies appeal from Councilman Jim Graham for legal help

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Local,DC,Liz Essley,Metro,D.C. Council,Jim Graham,Metro and Traffic

Metro won't be paying D.C. Councilman Jim Graham's legal bills.

The transit agency's board of directors denied a petition Thursday from Graham, the board's former chairman, to pay for his private legal counsel in a $100 million lawsuit over a Metro land deal.

An independent review commissioned by Metro found that Graham broke the agency's rules when he offered to support a developer in its bid for a D.C. lottery contract if the company backed out of a Metro effort to develop land on Florida Avenue Northwest. The developer sued Graham.

"Mr. Graham acted outside the scope of his duties," said board member Jim Dyke. "The [Metro] board must vindicate the expectations of the public that [Metro] will hold its board members accountable."

Graham said he is "considering all options" after Metro's "wrong conclusion."

"[The board left] one of its members to fend against a specious lawsuit that is a direct result of work done on behalf of [Metro]," Graham wrote in an email.

A lawyer for Graham said her team would fight the decision.

"This should be Metro's burden to bear, not the D.C. taxpayers', frankly," said Caroline Mehta.

Mehta said her team would explore an appeal to the board, an appeal to Metro's insurance company or "potential judicial intervention."

Dyke said it's possible that Metro's insurance company could pay some of Graham's legal costs.

Those costs could soar quickly -- Graham is employing a legal star from Zuckerman Spaeder, whose top lawyers cost as much as $1,000 per hour in 2007, according to Washingtonian magazine.

Two board members voted to fund Graham's legal defense, saying Metro board members need to be able to expect the agency to pay legal bills related to their service.

Graham's request was the first of its kind for the board, and the board members who voted against it said they were worried it would create a bad precedent.

"You could get very poor very quickly," said board member Tom Bulger.

But Graham will have legal counsel even if he can't afford the pricey private firm -- the D.C. council's lawyer also has been representing him in the lawsuit.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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