Judge says subpoena of Sulaimon Brown must be served in person

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled that onetime mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown was not properly served with a subpoena and that certified mail was not sufficient. Judge Judith N. Macaluso found that Brown was not properly notified of the committee’s court petition and that notice by mail was insufficient.

A D.C. Council committee that has gone to court to compel testimony from onetime mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown in a probe of city hiring will have to notify Brown in person, not by mail, of the court proceeding initiated by the council, a D.C. Superior Court judge said Wednesday.

Unable to locate Brown, the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment filed a petition in Superior Court seeking to force Brown to comply with the council subpoena. The council was required to notify Brown of the court petition but did so only by certified mail. At a hearing Wednesday, Judge Judith N. Macaluso said that service by mail was not sufficient and that the council would have to try to serve Brown in person.

“The bugaboo of service raises its head,” she said. “I’m not aware of any exception to the service requirement.”

In a brief interview after the hearing, David Zvenyach, the council’s general counsel, said he may prepare a brief to convince Macaluso that Brown could be served by certified mail. “Ultimately, we’re going to try to serve him,” he said.

Brown, a candidate in last year’s Democratic mayoral primary, has alleged that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Lorraine A. Green, Gray’s campaign and transition chairman, promised him a city job in return for campaign attacks on then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. He also said he received payments from Green and Howard Brooks, a consultant on Gray’s campaign. The Washington Post has been unable to verify any payments, and Gray, Green and Brooks have denied the allegations, which are under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office and a congressional committee.

Brown, 40, was hired in January as a special assistant at a salary of $110,000 but was soon dismissed.

The council committee is conducting a broad probe into the personnel practices of the Gray administration, which has been criticized for nepotism, poor vetting of new hires and high salaries.

Since launching the probe in March, the council committee has heard from more than a dozen witnesses, including Green. The committee’s chairman, Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), had excused Brooks and his son, Peyton Brooks, who was hired and later resigned from a special assistant’s job, because they intended to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

But the full D.C. Council voted unanimously last week to seek court intervention to force the younger Brooks, Brown and former special assistant Cherita Whiting to appear before the committee. Cheh has said Peyton Brooks probably has information not protected by the Fifth Amendment privilege.

Brown, who says he is cooperating with the federal probes, has said repeatedly that he does not want to cooperate with the council investigation and that he was not properly served with the council subpoena. In a statement Wednesday, Brown said, “I’m pleased with the judge’s decision. Respect for the rule of law and fairness has spoken. I hope Mary Cheh and Vincent Gray are listening.”

Whiting had also said she was not properly served. Zvenyach would not comment on Peyton Brooks’s status, but he said Whiting is cooperating and is scheduled to appear June 6.

Macaluso scheduled a hearing for June 3. Zvenyach said the committee hopes to serve Brown by then so he can testify on the same day as Whiting.

The judge said the council’s predicament with serving Brown “is an interesting situation” because Brown appears accessible, at least by phone. Macaluso said Brown answers calls from the news media and from “my chambers.”

Zvenyach told the judge that Brown is selective about whom he responds to. “He doesn’t answer everybody’s calls,” Zvenyach said.

Brown did not appear in court Wednesday, although Macaluso said he had been informed of the hearing.

Brown, she said, was in town. “He’s here. He’s not in Tahiti,” Macaluso said.

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