The Washington Post

Gray moves to fire judge accused of ethics breaches

Too much drama inside One Judiciary Square, home of the Office of Administrative Hearings and the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. (D.C. Department of Real Estate Services)

A day after the city’s chief administrative law judge was charged with numerous ethics violations, Mayor Vincent C. Gray has moved to remove her from her tenured post, according to an administration official familiar with the decision.

Mary Oates Walker has led the Office of Administrative Hearings since 2010, and more than two years of internal strife culminated Thursday in a 19-count notice of ethics violations issued by the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. Those charges are now set to be tried before the three-member board in late March.

But Gray is not waiting for the outcome of that proceeding, moving Friday to place Walker on leave with pay with the intention of firing her for cause. Walker holds a tenured position with two years remaining in her term, and she cannot be fired outright by the mayor. According to city law, she may not be dismissed “except upon a written finding of the Mayor of good cause, subject to the right of appeal.”

And Walker will appeal, said her lawyer, James F. Hibey.

“The mayor’s decision today to notify the chief judge of her termination is at best premature,” he said in a statement. “Without a hearing to determine the truth or falsity of the allegations lodged by BEGA, the mayor has declared the allegations to be true. He has decided wrongly to defame the chief judge and to deny her the opportunity to defend herself at BEGA before terminating her.”

Hibey suggested that Gray’s motives for firing Walker, an appointee of predecessor Adrian M. Fenty, were political, saying her removal “has been his goal for some time now” and that administration officials have worked toward her ouster.

“Yesterday, BEGA’s action was a gross abuse of process,” he added. “Today, the mayor’s action is even worse.”

The ethics board charged that Walker hired a business partner as a subordinate, steered a $43,000 moving contract to the subordinate’s husband, then lied to investigators probing the actions. The subordinate, Kiyo Oden Tyson, faces 10 ethics counts of her own but remains on the job as agency general counsel because Gray does not have direct hire-and-fire power over the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The agency employs more than two dozen administrative law judges who handle a variety of disputes involving government agencies, ranging from license and permit decisions to trash violations to welfare-eligibility rulings and rental-housing appeals.

Walker has clashed with a number of her fellow judges — a dispute that emerged into public view in 2012 when 15 of them signed a letter questioning her competence and leadership. Walker responded by suggesting the judges were disgruntled over her efforts to reform the office and increase their productivity and professionalism.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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