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Top lawyer in D.C. govít. accused of ethics lapse

(Published July 17, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

The fallout from the mayorís attempt to use government employees and resources to campaign for the school governance referendum continues as members of the D.C. City Council are demanding that the mayor give them an itemized price tag and the city governmentís top lawyer has ethics charges filed against him for representing the mayor.

The ethics charge against Corporation Counsel Robert R. Rigsby was filed by Dorothy Brizill, executive director of D.C. Watch, who also got the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) to rule June 16 that Mayor Anthony A. Williams was illegally using government employees in his campaign to get the school board reform referendum passed.

Brizillís filing with the Office of Bar Counsel of the D.C. Bar charges that Rigsby is in conflict of interest by representing the mayor in his attempt to overturn the June 16 ruling. All lawyers practicing in the District must be members of the D.C. Bar, the organization that sets the ethical standards and rules of professional conduct for attorneys. The Bar Counsel has jurisdiction to prosecute allegations of ethical misconduct by attorneys.

Brizill asserts in her complaint that the OCF ruling is the governmentís official position and that the corporation counsel, as the governmentís lawyer, is legally obligated to defend the government. By representing the mayor, she said, Rigsby and his staff would

(See RIGSBY, page 4)

essentially be arguing both sides of the case.

"Mr. Williams thinks it is his right to use public funds and government employees in his election campaigns, and he thinks it is his right to use the governmentís lawyer as his private attorney," she said. "But Mr. Rigsby should have a clearer understanding of his legal and ethical duty to the government and the people of the District of Columbia."

Rigsby was unavailable for comment.

Members of the D.C. City Council, meanwhile, are pressing to get a full accounting of the extent of Williamsí campaign finance violations.

At-large Republican David Catania urged the councilís Committee on Government Operations to send a letter to the mayor asking for a detailed list of how much government money the Williams administration spent during the campaign.

"Iím not going to let this go until we have a full accounting and a check made out to the D.C. treasury," he said.

In the July 7 letter to the mayor, committee chairman Kathy Patterson, D-Ward 3, noted that Catania suggested delaying action on a request by the mayor for an additional $700,000 for the city administratorís office until Williams settles the matter.

"I believe that an accounting of expenditures for the school governance referendum is appropriate, just as it is for any endeavor funded with public money," Patterson wrote. "I would also like to know what plans are underway to reimburse the government for these expenditures."

The mayorís appeal of his campaign finance violations is scheduled to be heard before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Sept. 6. Brizill has filed a motion with the elections board asking that the appeal be dismissed on the grounds that Rigsbyís alleged conflict of interest makes it improper for him to write or file an appeal on behalf of the mayor.

She compared the mayorís situation to that of President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment.

"When it became his (Clintonís) personal legal problems, he had to go out and get his own private lawyer," she said, asserting that Williams needs to hire a private attorney to pursue his appeal.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator