How might the District spend $60,000? Paying for a year of pricey college for an underprivileged student, maybe, or adding it to the streetcar money pit. Instead, thanks to a new settlement, the District will cough up $58,400 because of an allegedly deletion-happy Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.
The settlement ends the saga of ANC 5B member Carolyn Steptoe and her tape recorder. After Steptoe shut down an ANC meeting last year over alleged rowdiness over a liquor license, Brookland resident Conor Crimmins filed a Freedom of Information Act request for an audio recording Steptoe had made of the meeting. Crimmins wanted to find out if the meeting was so rambunctious it merited an early adjournment.
Even a judge’s order forcing Steptoe to hand over the recording wasn’t much help, though, because by the time Steptoe handed over the tape recorder to Crimmins’ lawyer, the audio had mysteriously vanished. In April, Superior Court Judge Michael O’Keefe ruled that it was “more likely than not” that Steptoe was behind the recording’s disappearance.
Crimmins’ attorney, Don Padou, looks to be the biggest beneficiary of that settlement. $57,000 will go toward his legal fees, while $1,400 in sanctions against the ANC will cover the cost of recovering the deleted recording, which turned out to be pretty boring anyway. Even now, though, Crimmins says he’s confused on why Steptoe had trouble handing over such a banal tape—-and why the Office of the Attorney General fought on her behalf for so long.
“I’m more baffled by the OAG’s apparent inability to do a risk-reward assessment,” Padou says. “This case should never have gone this long.”
Steptoe announced Tuesday she’s going to resign from her ANC post ahead of a move to Upper Northwest. In an email to LL, Steptoe maintains that she didn’t delete the recording, offering the fact that she provided the recorder at all as proof of her innocence—-never mind that it took a court order for her to do so. Despite the settlement, the matter isn’t over. After ruling against the ANC in April, the judge in the case referred it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
The settlement continues a losing streak for Ward 5’s curiously lawsuit-prone ANC members. On July 9, another judge ruled that an ANC 5E commissioner’s emails in a private email account were still subject to FOIA. Last month, outspoken ANC 5D commissioner Kathy Henderson lost a libel lawsuit fight with Bladensburg Road NE bar Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club and now-defunct restaurant Capital City Diner, whose owners won with a whopping a $141,592.87 judgment against her.
Tape recorder photo by Shutterstock