The bulk of the junior judges in the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings rebuked the agency’s top manager in a letter sent to high-ranking city officials Wednesday.
Fifteen judges signed the letter accusing Chief Administrative Law Judge Mary Oates Walker of a “lack of transparency, predictability, and competence.” It was addressed to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and copied to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), the Commission on Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges and Walker herself.
The signers represent a significant majority of the 24 judges listed on an official Web site as holding non-managerial roles for the agency, which adjudicates regulatory and intragovernmental disputes. The letter is an unusual show of no confidence in any top public official, let alone the leader of a quasijudicial body.
The missive follows a pair of recent reports by WJLA-TV that questioned the agency’s top officials.
One report noted the appearance of a conflict of interest in the no-bid award of a relocation contract to a company owned by the agency general counsel’s husband. A second report noted that Walker hears no cases as chief judge, even as chief judges of most other judicial and administrative courts in the region do.
The letter notes a “lack of transparency” in managerial decision making that relies on a “favored inner circle of management judges”; that Walker’s “treatment of support staff is unprofessional, erratic, and at times demeaning,” including having “fired a cancer patient the day before scheduled surgery”; and that she is “unwilling or unable to retain seasoned, experienced professionals for key management positions,” alleging the agency’s executive director lacks “any discernible bona fides.”
After the Post inquired about the letter Wednesday evening, the agency issued an unsigned response Thursday citing a “pervasive culture of indifference” in the agency prior to Walker’s January 2010 appointment by then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).
“Drastic changes in staffing, personnel management and administration were required in order to transform the agency into a productive one,” the statement reads. “These changes have been unpopular, especially with employees who, for years, received pay and benefits with little accountability. Today, as a result of these changes, the agency’s performance has significantly improved and the case backlog has been virtually eliminated.”
Walker said in a subsequent interview that “a number of employees are obviously resistant to those changes.” She also defended her choice not to hear cases, noting that her focus on managerial duties has helped improve agency operations.
Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Gray, said the contracting matter has been referred to the D.C. inspector general for investigation.
“Serious questions have been raised and we believe that the best course is to allow the investigation to get to the bottom of the matter,” Ribeiro said, adding that the administration is hoping the probe “will move quickly.”
The agency statement notes that several of the letter’s signers are participating in a “joint committee” to make recommendations on improving the agency’s operations.
”None of the concerns voiced in the letter have ever been raised by the signatories with [Walker],” it reads. “ Unfortunately, staff members thought it appropriate to share their concerns with local news outlets prior to bringing them to management.”
The agency’s response: