Gray, others ordered to testify in D.C. Lottery lawsuit

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A federal judge has compelled Mayor Vincent C. Gray and two council members to testify about a controversial lottery contract awarded in 2008.

The order by U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson means Mr. Gray and member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, must sit down for depositions in the matter of Eric Payne v. District of Columbia no later than Nov. 14.

Mr. Payne, a former contract manager for the D.C. chief financial officer, filed a five-count lawsuit against the city, accusing Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi of retaliating against him when he claimed that elected officials, including then-council chairman Gray, improperly intervened to thwart the selection of a vendor to run the city’s lottery contract.

After making the complaints, Mr. Payne was reassigned to lesser duties and ultimately fired in 2009. The lottery contract was rebid and was the subject of a bitter and protracted dispute.

The council ultimately awarded the contract to DC09, a partnership between Greek lottery operator Intralot and a local partner called Veteran Services Corporation, which is run by a Maryland businessman.

Judge Robinson said the depositions of Mr. Gray, Mr. Evans and Mr. Graham must be limited to discussions with Mr. Gandhi regarding the lottery contract, and each cannot exceed 3½ hours.

Lawyers for the District had argued in federal court that backroom discussions between elected officials and the city’s chief financial officer are privileged and, as a result, they should not have to testify in a civil lawsuit accusing them of improperly steering the D.C. lottery contract.

Mr. Gray, they said, has “absolute legislative immunity in connection with his legislative activities when he served on the Council cannot be compelled testify about them.”

However, the judge ruled “conversations at issue here were plainly outside the realm of speech or debate in a ‘legislative body.’”

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