A federal lawsuit that has proved to be a headache to various District officials is moving slowly toward a conclusion.
The wrongful termination suit brought by Eric W. Payne, former contracts director for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, has lurched through the discovery process, thanks to a series of disputes over document production and depositions of city officials including Mayor Vincent C. Gray, CFO Natwar M. Gandhi and a pair of D.C. Council members.
Discovery is now complete, after a judge on Friday rejected Payne’s bid to re-interview Gray and D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).
Payne’s lawyer, Brian K. McDaniel, explained in court that they wanted the two to answer further questions under oath about the lottery contract dealings at the center of Payne’s case. In particular, McDaniel said he wanted further details on purported meetings between Graham and lottery contractors Warren and Alaka Williams, and between Gray and lobbyists Kevin P. Chavous and David W. Wilmot.
But the district judge handling the case, Richard W. Roberts, had in a May decision already sharply curtailed the scope of questioning to matters directly involving Payne’s firing. McDaniel argued that the meetings “had everything to do with Eric Payne” to no avail. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson, who is handling pre-trial motions, said Roberts’s order did not require Gray and Graham to answer questions about events with only speculative connections to Payne.
In recent motions filed in the case, both Payne and the District agreed a trial could begin in early 2013. But an attorney for the city said Friday it intends to ask Roberts to settle the case ahead of trial, or at least portions of it, via summary judgment. Those legal maneuvers will take place over the remaining months of 2012.
Meanwhile, litigation that has already aired allegations of political malfeasance and forced Gandhi, Gray and Graham to answer questions under oath might still disgorge new revelations. Payne is currently seeking to have a draft version of an internal OCFO report made public. This draft report, Payne claimed in his motion to unseal it, is “highly critical of [Graham] and his actions relative to the 2008 lottery procurement process.” That language was later deleted in the final report.
Graham has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing in the lottery case, as have Gray and Gandhi. Graham’s actions are also the subject of a pending investigation commissioned by the Metro board, on which he used to sit.