Lottery Whistle-Blower Can Make Mayor Talk

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The legal problems orbiting D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray continued when a federal judge ordered the politician to testify in a whistle-blower lawsuit over the lottery.
     Eric Payne, former contracts director for D.C. Chief Financial Officer Dr. Natwar Gandhi, sued Gandhi and the district in 2010, alleging that the D.C. City Council defamed and fired him for not following their directions on a contract to run the D.C. lottery.
     Gray led the council at the time.
     After a magistrate judge said Payne could depose several council members and Mayor Gray, who led the council at the time in question, the city and Councilmen Jack Evans and Jim Graham filed objections.
     They claimed that the D.C. Speech or Debate Clause gives elected officials immunity from providing deposition testimony and producing documents.
     U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts partly rejected this objection, however, “because Payne has presented evidence that Gray and Graham engaged in political efforts to exhort the executive that were not protected under the Speech or Debate Clause, and because the mayor has not shown that complying with the deposition subpoena would unduly burden him.
     Gray and Graham could be forced to testify on their communications with Gandhi relating to Payne’s demotion and termination, but Payne cannot request testimony on the council’s review of the lottery contract and certain comments Gray made to Payne in 2008, according to the ruling.
     Payne says he awarded the lottery-service contract to a company called W2I, but the council balked on the basis that W2I minority partner Warren Williams Jr. was an alleged “slumlord.”
     The council tried cajoling Payne to replace W2I even though “forcibly removing [and replacing] a joint venturer … after [completing] the source selection process” is illegal, according to the court’s summary of the complaint.
     The council voted down the contract and fired Payne, prompting his whistle-blower protection and wrongful termination lawsuit.
     While Roberts handed down the order last week, Thomas Gore, an assistant treasurer for Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, made a plea deal with federal prosecutors on charges that he made straw donations to another mayoral candidate and destroyed evidence.
     Gore is accused of giving money to Sulaimon Brown, who claims Gray promised him a job in exchange for trashing then-mayor Adrian Fenty to the press.

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