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When all else fails, commission a report.
It’s one of the tried-and-true plays in the crisis-management playbook. Think about the history: the Warren Commission, the 9/11 Commission, the Iraq Intelligence Commission.
This past summer, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles had reached pretty much the same stage. As the city’s top lawyer, he was entrusted with defending the indefensible Pershing Park case. Nickles was hoping to persuade his critics that he was determined to get to the bottom of the missing and/or botched evidence in the case. After getting thoroughly grilled by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in July on the matter, Nickles came up with a solution: Hire a retired federal judge, Stanley Sporkin, to investigate on a pro bono basis.
But is his investigation going to be worth a damn?
Sporkin is certainly qualified to handle the task. Before becoming a federal judge, he headed up the enforcement division at the Securities and Exchange Commission, and later was general counsel for the CIA.
A WaPo editorial praised Nickles’ decision to hire Sporkin.
In a September status report submitted to the court, Nickles assured that Sporkin would be leading an investigation into the missing “running resume” and the Sept. 27, 2002 radio tapes that went blank at the time of the mass arrests at Pershing Park—-the two biggest mysteries yet unsolved.
At last week’s hearing, Nickles told Sullivan that Sporkin’s final report was just days from completion. Sporkin tells City Desk that his investigation was “much harder and longer than I thought it was going to take.”
“I do things thoroughly,” Sporkin says. “I talked to a lot of people.”
Perhaps. Just not all the right ones.
Sporkin did not interview Robert J. Spagnoletti, who headed up the District’s law unit from May 2003 to November 2006. It was under his watch that many of the discovery abuses started coming to light.
When asked about Spagnoletti, Sporkin confessed he did not know who he was.
“Robert Spagnoletti? Who is he?” Sporkin asks before confusing him with a D.C. Superior Court judge.
Sporkin also did not interview former Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson. She had headed up the first investigation into Pershing Park, and the city’s stonewalling tactics started during Patterson’s probe.
“Kathy Patterson? That was the internal affairs person for the police department?” Sporkin wonders.
In an October filing, plaintiffs attorneys in the Chang case questioned the independence of Sporkin’s investigation after meeting with the retired judge. They wrote:
Judge Sporkin has not been tasked with and does not intend to try to find out how or why the discovery abuses occurred. In fact, he informed Chang counsel that he “would prefer not to” examine whether the OAG had committed ethical violations in relation to the discovery abuses…. When pressed by Chang counsel as to whether he was just a counselor to Nickles, Judge Sporkin replied, “yeah, that’s what I do—-I counsel. I am here to help this guy get out of a problem.”
In a footnote to the filing, plaintiffs attorneys report Sporkin’s real mission may be to help Nickles settle the cases. The judge stated as much to the attorneys during their meeting: “Judge Sporkin described the charge to him as follows: ‘Out of the blue I got a call from Nickles and he asked if I could be of help. I asked how and Nickles said anyway I could…I also want to help settle the case.'”
In their own filing, plaintiffs’ lawyers in the other Pershing Park case suggest Sporkin’s report will be a whitewash. They wrote of their own session with the retired judge: “Judge Sporkin has directly expressed to plaintiffs’ counsel that his efforts are not comensurate [sic] with a thorough investigation…and that such an endeavor is not his intention.”
Sporkin would not say whether he figured out how police radio tapes were erased or how the running resume vanished. Just wait for the report, he says, adding: “We followed the evidence.”
Both Spagnoletti and Patterson tell City Desk that they would have gladly talked to the retired judge.