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Lone witness lined up for Gray hirings hearing

Subpeona problems, refusals shred list

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2011

A D.C. Council committee that hoped to shed light Friday on charges of nepotism in Mayor Vincent C. Gray's hiring practices will have to wait a while longer.

The Committee on Government Operations and the Environment will hold court with a sole witness, Judy Banks, after a high-powered witness list of Gray administration insiders got picked apart by purported subpoena-dodging and invocation of Fifth Amendment rights.

Ms. Banks, former interim director of the Department of Human Resources, is expected to explain why her prior testimony before the committee conflicted with other witnesses' accounts of how an agency director's son was hired as a community liaison for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Services Department.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, began the hearings last month to explore allegations of cronyism and unlawfully high salaries of recently hired government employees. Two marathon hearings produced an apology from Mr. Gray's former chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, and accounts of how offspring of numerous city officials were hired.

Sulaimon Brown, who has said Gray confidante Lorraine A. Green and campaign consultant Howard Brooks gave him cash payments and promised him a job to stay in last year's mayoral race and bash incumbent Adrian M. Fenty on Mr. Gray's behalf, has refused to testify.

Ms. Green is scheduled to testify at yet another hearing, on May 13.

There has been no testimony to support Mr. Brown's most serious charge, that he received cash payments from Gray campaign officials. Nor has any witness said that Mr. Gray coordinated the controversial appointments, or was even aware of Mr. Brown's hiring.

This week, Ms. Cheh's office told fellow committee members that Mr. Brown and other key witnesses would have to be summoned again for May 13, or may not testify at all.

Mr. Brown and another former city employee, Cherita Whiting, who resigned after reports in The Washington Times about her undisclosed felony record, appeared to be avoiding a subpoena from the Capitol Process Servers company, according to Ms. Cheh's office.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Whiting both said in published reports this week they are not trying to evade the servers.

"The process server hired by the secretarys office has been authorized to use aggressive means to serve these subpoenas," a letter from Ms. Cheh's office says.

Attorneys for Mr. Brooks and his son, Peyton Brooks - who was been called to testify about a government job he got - told the committee their clients would invoke their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination, citing an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

"I ask that the Council not draw any negative inference regarding my client's decision," attorney Glenn F. Ivey said, according to a copy of a letter obtained by The Times.

Ms. Cheh said the father-son duo is not required to show up Friday. It would be "unethical" to have them appear, "solely to embarrass them by making them assert this privilege in front of television cameras," she told the committee.

Ms. Hall's son, Nicholas Hall, was expected to testify in closed session because of a medical condition that makes a public appearance inadvisable, according to Ms. Cheh's office. The resolution authorizing Ms. Cheh to hold Friday's hearing during a council recess could not be marked up to reflect those conditions, so Mr. Hall is scheduled to testify on May 13.

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