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Would-be D.C. ethics chairman: public has good reason to distrust government

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Local,DC,Liz Farmer

The attorney nominated to head the yet-to-be formed D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability painted a dire picture of ethical standards in city government while minimizing a potential conflict of interest issue with his own appointment.

At his confirmation hearing before a D.C. Council committee Monday, nominee Robert Spagnoletti said there is "a general perception that our government functions without a working ethical compass."

"Indeed, a number of recent high-profile reprimands, resignations and criminal prosecutions involving our public officials, have given the public good reason to distrust government employees and the systems that are in place to hold them accountable," he said.

The nominees
Robert Spagnoletti: partner at Schertler & Onorato, former D.C. Attorney General
Laura Richards: recently retired career attorney with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Deborah Lathen: runs private consulting business, Lathen Consulting

But Spagnoletti's nomination has been criticized by some administration critics, including D.C. Watch's Dorothy Brizill, for his past relationship with the mayor. Spagnoletti in 2010 represented Mayor Vincent Gray over a fence Gray had built for his home. His law firm, Schertler & Onorato LLP, also represents some city employees and agencies.

Spagnoletti said he would recuse himself from any case before the board that may involve any clients -- including the mayor. But he disputed an assessment from Brizill, who testified earlier she though three-quarters of Spagnoletti's cases would create a conflict.

"It is entirely untrue that 75 percent of the practice is D.C. employees or government agencies," he said, later adding he would "rarely" need to recuse himself from a case.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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