We have been following an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case over the recording of the April 2013 ANC 5B-04 meeting hosted by Commissioner Carolyn Steptoe. There has been some conjecture about what exactly happened at the meeting. Many residents claim that Commissioner Steptoe was rude and dismissive to her constituents while Commissioner Steptoe claimed that meeting attendees were disrespectful and mob-like towards her, and that is what prompted her to shut down the meeting. There hasn’t been an ANC 5B-04 meeting since, and at the February 2014 ANC 5B meeting Commissioner Steptoe announced that she will no longer hold SMD meetings because they “cause a ruckus among some people”. Other than hearsay, the only documentation of what actually occurred is an audio recording Commissioner Steptoe made during the meeting. Realizing this recording could provide clarity to the situation, Brookland resident Conor Crimmins and the Brookland Bridge Blog submitted FOIA requests for the recording, both of which were denied by ANC 5B. Mr. Crimmins decided to pursue the issue and took it court. The result, this summary judgment, required Commissioner Steptoe to release the recording despite her contention that the recording was made with her personal device and therefore is her possession. At that point, in early November 2013, those of us following this case thought it was pretty much over.
It turns out that Commissioner Steptoe has yet to turn the recording over, and in fact, it may have been destroyed. In early December 2013 ANC 5B asked for the court for a reconsideration; arguing that ANC 5B should not be held responsible for the recording, that the recording is unavailable, and the judge should reverse his opinion (you can see Defendant ANC 5B’s Reply to Plaintiff’s Opposition To Its Motion for Reconsideration here). In response, the court denied the Reconsideration in mid December and re-asserted that the defendant (ANC 5B) must make the recording available (you can see the court’s Order on Motion for Reconsideration here).
On January 30th, 2014, I attended a court hearing in this case, in hopes of securing a copy of the recording to share with our readers. At that hearing the attorney for ANC 5B stated that the recording is unavailable and that the ANC has taken all reasonable steps to produce it unsuccessfully. It was unclear what happened to the recording, other than it could not be retrieved from the recorder. The attorney said they even obtained an estimate from a forensics expert who said it could cost $1,400 – $1,800 to retrieve the files from the recorder. Further, the attorney asserted, taxpayers should not be responsible to pay this fee through ANC 5B. Upon further questioning from the judge about the ANC’s responsibility and inability to produce the recording, the ANC attorney explained that ANC 5B doesn’t have control or authority over Commissioner Steptoe, and that she should be held responsible for the recording, not ANC 5B. The Judge concluded that it is “unseemly that someone destroys documents that are public…there has to be a consequence to that”, and added that there needs to be an evidentiary hearing at which Commissioner Steptoe testifies about what happened to the recording. The judge also noted that Commissioner Steptoe would be held accountable for the recording, not ANC 5B. The attorney for ANC 5B asserted that Commissioner Steptoe is not technically an employee and therefore they cannot compel her to appear at a court date. The judge therefore agreed that Commissioner Steptoe be served with a subpoena and appear at the next hearing coming up on Wednesday, March 19th. We contacted the plaintiff in this case, Conor Crimmins, and he confirmed to us that Commissioner Steptoe was served with the subpoena on Wednesday, February 26th, 2014.
We will continue to follow this case as it winds through the court process.