Final Ruling In ANC 5B FOIA Case Will Cost Taxpayers $60,000

120px-Freedom_of_Information_logoWe have been keeping readers up to date throughout the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) court case between Brookland resident Conor Crimmins and ANC 5B, specifically ANC 5B04 Commissioner Carolyn Steptoe. Now the case has finally come to an end. The FOIA request was for the release of the audio recording of the April 2013 SMD 5B04 meeting taken by Commissioner Steptoe. Her refusal to release it until subpoenaed to do so was the basis of this law suit. We learned at the latest hearing that a forensics expert was able to recover the audio file from the recording device, despite the finding that it was intentionally deleted and was made available to the public. We included a link to the audio recording in our last post about this case. On Tuesday April 15  Superior Judge Michael O’Keefe has announced his final ruling in this case. Sorry for the delay in bringing the final results of the case to you. Here is a link to the complete Court Order. To save you some time, here are  a few key excerpts from the Court Order:

  • The Court concludes that more likely than not, Commissioner Steptoe deleted the file subject to the FOIA request in order to frustrate attempts to obtain it.
  • Commissioner Steptoe’s behavior is regrettable and possibly criminal under D.C. Code § 2-537(d). To make matters worse, Commissioner Steptoe testified falsely under oath about this matter. Her testimony was confusing and contradictory.
  • Commissioner Steptoe acknowledged her suspicion that “FOIA requests tend to be pretextual strategies by person/entities seeking a leg up and/or expose.” Her contumacious behavior stems from her refusal to provide D.C. residents with an audio recording of an ANC SMD 5B04 meeting that she held regarding an issue of interest to many people in the neighborhood.
  • Ironically, Commissioner Steptoe stated that she wished the recording could be found because the recording would prove she acted appropriately during the hearing.
  • Upon inspection, Commissioner Steptoe’s recorder was fully functioning, there was no evidence of file corruption, and he was able to determine that the recording of the April 27, 2013, meeting had been manually deleted.
  • The Court will refer the case to the OAG and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for potential prosecution of Commissioner Steptoe’s perjury and destruction of the recording.

This Court Order marks the end of this civil case, but it leaves DC taxpayers with a price to pay, as the Washington City Paper reported that the cost to defend ANC 5B and Commissioner Steptoe will be  around $60,000. We will stay on top of this issue and see what happens if/when the OAG and US Attorney’s Office pick up the matter in criminal court. From what we understand, the penalty for perjury is up to 10 years, though it can be difficult to prove.

7 thoughts on “Final Ruling In ANC 5B FOIA Case Will Cost Taxpayers $60,000”

  1. Residents of ANC 5B should confront the commissioners at their next meeting, which happens to be this evening at Mary McLeod Bethune PCS on Jackson Street. Residents should demand that the ANC censure Steptoe for her egregious disregard for justice and democratic processes. Her irresponsible, selfish behavior has resulted in obscene costs for the District’s taxpayers. Hopefully the OAG will indict Steptoe. This nonsense needs to stop!

  2. Hello – Thank you for your piece. Below is another perspective which will help your readers. Also, I understand the Solicitor General has this matter on appeal; uncertain of the basis – (challenging the judge’s original ruling on jurisdictional authority??/correctness??)

    From: Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04)
    Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 9:11 AM

    Good morning Community –

    Yesterday, I was contacted by a Washington City Paper report seeking my comment on the judge’s recent ruling in the FOIA lawsuit case (Conor Crimmins v. District of Columbia). The judge’s rulings includes decisions & orders specific to me. This FOIA case stems from a 5B04 SMD information session I convened in April 2013 in which the info session included presentation by Brookland’s Finest Bar and Kitchen for their liquor license application. You may google the case if you wish.

    From: Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04)
    Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 4:35 PM
    To: Will Sommer
    Subject: RE: Lawsuit

    Hi Will — Thanks so much for your email. Unfortunately, my time is limited but, I did want to respond quickly to you. I can only say that, with all due respect to the court, I strongly disagree with all Judge’s O’Keefe’s rulings in this audio FOIA case; his earlier rulings that (1) SMD info meetings are bona fide DC gov’t meetings (nothing in DC Home Rule Charter and DC statute even acknowledges SMD meetings or info sessions and that (2) an ANC commissioner’s personal effects and property (in this case, my audio recording device) are subject to public grabs under the auspices of public availability under FOIA in the course of ANC duty. Does that mean my car, home computer, phone, even house are subject to FOIA because they are used in the course of performing unpaid ANC work there? As unpaid entities, most ANCs citywide use their personal effects in the course of ANC duties. Interestingly though, both the SMD and personal property queries were substantiated to me in writing by OAG (the former also by the Office of the ANC) in late April/early Mary 2013 when this audio FOIA matter first arose (which I presume this court was aware) so, I am confused how these rulings occurred and this matter got this far.

    However, what is most disturbing now is the judge’s recent order which says – in none to subtle terms – that I deliberately disobeyed/destroyed court order by deliberately destroying property and worse, that I perjuryed under oath. What??? I volunteered to the court my tape recording device. I was not ordered nor subpoenaed to bring it. I voluntarily brought it to court and offered it to the court in the course of my testimony. No reason not to since I function in good faith as a dutiful, knowledgeable citizen.

    Suffice it to say then, as a personal affront to my character and professional disposition and in conjunction with the judge’s other rulings in this FOIA case, yes, I am disappointed, shocked and continue to strongly disagree with Judge O’Keefe’s rulings in this matter.

    Apologies if this is cryptic but I did want to provide you a response. Thank you again.

    Very kind regards,
    Commissioner Carolyn C. Steptoe
    Single Member District 5B04
    From: Will Sommer []
    Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 1:48 PM
    To: Steptoe, Carolyn C.(ANC 5B04)
    Subject: Lawsuit

    Hi Commissioner Steptoe,

    My name’s Will Sommer, and I’m writing a story about the recent court ruling in your FOIA case. I’d love to talk with you when you’re available today, my number’s 703-863-1148.

    Thanks for your time

    Will Sommer
    Loose Lips Columnist, Washington City Paper

    Loose Lips Blog
    Office: 202-650-6925
    Cell: 703-863-1148

    1. If an appeal was filed I suspect it is now moot. Courts generally must adhere to the “case or controversy” requirement of Article III of the Constitution. Although the DC Courts are technically Article I courts, they nonetheless have traditionally adhered to the “case or controversy” clause. In the underlying civil, all Mr. Crimmins sought was copies of certain documents and a copy of an audio recording. He has now received precisely what he sought, so there remains no live case or controversy between the parties and the appeal is more than likely now moot. This is to say, now that Mr. Crimmins has received what he sought, the Court of Appeals will not review the legal or factual basis of the judge’s original order because that decision would be purely academic and courts must refrain from deciding academic issues or issuing advisory opinions.

      In any event, an appeal as to the legal correctness of the judge’s original order would not absolve Ms. Steptoe of the Judge’s finding of perjury because that arose from nothing more than her testimony that she had no idea what happened to the recording. The funny thing is, the appeal as to the legal correctness of the judge’s underlying opinion likely WOULD have gone forward and even resulted in a decision favorable to Ms. Steptoe if the audio recording had not been destroyed. However, once the attorneys from OAG learned that the audio recording no longer existed they had an ethical duty to inform the Court and thereby initiate the proceedings which eventually led to Ms. Steptoe handing-over her audio recording to permit a forensic evaluation. In other words, she brought all this unpleasantness upon herself when she destroyed the audio file and then lied about it. No appeal is going to absolve her of the judge’s finding of civil perjury or destruction of documents… she just has to hope that the relevant authorities don’t prosecute her.

  3. What world do you live in CMSR? Seriously, I would like to know? You can disagree all you want with the courts ruling, and you can play dumb all you want about the recording “magically” disappearing…but you are only fooling yourself. You are an elected official in the govt of the District of Columbia. OF COURSE any meeting you hold is an actual govt meeting. You advertised it as a DC SMD meeting, you called it to order as the presiding elected SMD rep, and you even yielded (read: abused) your power to end it as an elected official.
    You have been one of the the most divisive influences in this community for the 11 years I have lived here, and have done a great deal more harm than good. You use fear and misinformation to manipulate people into seeing your side. You turn every discussion into “us vs. them” trying to turn neighbors against each other. You dismiss the views of anyone who recently moved to the area that disagrees with you, rather then hearing their concerns. You try to run this SMD like your own personal fifedom, where your opinion trumps the communities. Hopefully this is an eye opener for the entire neighborhood, and you will be ousted next election. I for one look forward to an ANC that can work together to make the neighborhood better.

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