D.C. Corporation Counsel John R. Risher had ordered James W. Baldwin to rescind a directive that prohibits employees of the D.C. Human Rights Office from talking directly to the media, representatives of the City Council and Congress.
Baldwin, whose tenure as director of the human rights office has been plagued by controversy, issued a memo last month to his employees warning them that all requests for information had to be referred to Pearl Jackson, the agency's "freedom of information officer."
The memo further stated that "any employee who violates this policy will be subject to disciplinary action including termination.
In a memo written to Baldwin, Risher said that Baldwin's directive last month was "clearly prohibited" by a U.S. District Court order issued last year.
The court order said that a now-deleted chapter of the D.C. personnel manual that prohibited city employees from making public "any disagreement with or criticism of official policies and practices" of the District government was unconstitutional and vio-months after a series of news articles, based on statements by the agency's former and current employees, criticized Baldwin for using a city employee to prepare homework assignments required as a part of Baldwin's work toward a doctoral degree at Nova University in Florida.
Mayor Walter E. Washington asked city administrator Julian Dugas last February to determine whether Baldwin had acted improperly. Dugas said Tuesday he had not forwarded a report to the mayor about Baldwin's activities, and that neither he nor the mayor would comment on Baldwin's case while it was pending before the city's Board of Elections and Ethics.
At a hearing before the ethics board Tuesday, Baldwin acknowledged that he had violated city conflict of interest statutes by using D.C. government stationery to recruit students for Nova. The board has yet to rule on Baldwin's case.
A staff member of the Office of Human Rights said some of the staff saw Baldwin's directive last month as "intimidation devised to discourage staff members from talking to the media."
Neither Baldwin nor Jackson were available for comment yesterday. Frank Anderson, deputy director of the Office of Human Rights, denied that the memo was designed to prohibit staff members from talking to the media or city officials.
"There is a big misunderstanding about the memo," Anderson said. "It was just a matter of alerting the staff of our need to keep records of information requests."
The D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates complaints of racial and sexual discrimination in public and private employment, housing and accommodations.