For several years now, a small group of activists have dogged D.C. Council member Jack Evans about his role in the $272 million public deal to build a new 14-story hotel next to the Washington Convention Center.
The activists allege that Evans (D-Ward 2), who also works for the Patton Boggs law firm, engaged in a conflict of interest by participating in the deal and in subsequent efforts to move forward with construction. That’s because, they claim, Patton Boggs represented Marriott International Corp., which will be operating the hotel.
While Evans recused himself from a series of 2009 votes on the deal, the activists have pressed him to file a written statement explaining his recusal, as required under city law.
John Hanrahan, a former Washington Post and Washington Star reporter, renewed his concerns this week in a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D). “Why, even as he expresses concern over various ethical issues that have afflicted the Mayor and the Council, does Mr. Evans himself refuse to comply with basic ethics laws that are already on the books?” Hanrahan wrote.
Evans now responds, saying he’s followed the law and, moreover, there never was a conflict to begin with.
An April opinion prepared by the D.C. Council’s chief lawyer, released Thursday by Evans, said the disclosure requirement “likely would not apply” to the hotel deal because there was no actual conflict.
“Your staff has informed our office that, in fact, Marriott Corporation was not a client of [Patton Boggs] at that time,” wrote General Counsel V. David Zvenyach to Evans.
That’s important, Zvenyach wrote in a footnote, because the disclosure requirements “are triggered only when a potential or actual conflict exists, not when the appearance of a potential conflict exists” [emphasis his].
Edward Newberry, managing partner of Patton Boggs, confirmed Thursday that Marriott International Corp., is not and has not been a client of the firm.
Marriott did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Marriott spokesman Jeff Flaherty said that company legal officials do not recall having done business with Patton Boggs, certainly not in the past five years.
In an interview, Evans said concerns had been raised while the deal was under discussion because a former lawyer for Marriott’s former real estate arm (now Host Hotels and Resorts) had joined Patton Boggs. While a “conflict check” he made with firm management came back clear, Evans said, he acted on the advice of former aide Jeff Coudriet, who had suggested that he recuse himself “out of an abundance of caution” — given that Patton Boggs is a large international firm that, unknown to Evans, might well have represented some party in the financing deal. Coudriet has since died.
Marriott, he also noted, was not a direct beneficiary of the city financing package. The hotel building is being developed by a pair of local companies who have contracted with Marriott to run the hotel.
”With those two things together” — Marriott not being a Patton Boggs client, and Marriott not directly benefitting from the council action — “there’s nothing here,” Evans said.
Hanrahan questioned why it took Evans more than two years to clear up the issue, during which he worked behind the scenes to clear up a nettlesome legal dispute involving Marriott that delayed the hotel’s construction. “I don’t understand why you don’t just fill out the form or write the letter as you’re required to do,” he said.
Evans said he was unaware of the disclosure law before Hanrahan & Co. made a point of it. He said he’ll be sure to file such a statement should he recuse himself due to a future conflict.
UPDATE, 4:25 P.M.: The post has been updated with comment from Marriott International Corp.
Here is Zvenyach’s opinion: