Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Judge Qustions Basis for Ethics Charges

WASHINGTON (CN) - The 19 counts of ethics violations that could get D.C.'s top administrative law judge fired stem from a city board overstepping its authority, she claims in court.

Mary Oates Walker, suspended from her position of chief administrative law judge for the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, sued in Superior Court alongside the office's general counsel, Kiyo Oden Tyson, who faces 10 counts.

Earlier this month, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) accused Walker of steering a $43,000 city contract to Tyson's husband. It also accuses Walker and Tyson of lying to investigators about their property-management venture.

Walker and Tyson now claim that the board has no jurisdiction to investigate them and that Mayor Vincent Gray should be enjoined from firing them.

"BEGA does not have jurisdiction over independent agencies and BEGA's definition section defines 'executive agency' as limited to those agencies under the 'direct administrative control of the mayor,' demonstrating statutory intent to exclude independent executive agencies from BEGA's jurisdictional coverage," the complaint states.

The D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings is "an independent agency that serves as a neutral, impartial tribunal that holds hearings and decides appeals from government agency decisions," the women claim.

Though a bill has been proposed that would give BEGA jurisdiction over independent agencies, that bill is still pending review and the D.C. Council has not voted on it, according to the action.

BEGA's notice of violation has said: "In sworn testimony taken at a deposition on November 26, 2013, Respondent Walker made material misrepresentations in response to several questions, thereby corruptly obstructing or impeding the due administration of justice in the above-referenced investigation."

It accused Walker of actively trying to steer a city contract to Tyson's future husband in 2011. The contract was for a $43,000 job moving furniture to the new offices of Walker's agency.

Walker says Mayor Gray placed her on administrative leave immediately after the allegations dropped, and "it is reasonably anticipated that based on statements of the mayor's Office, adverse employment is imminent."

BEGA's issued violations allegedly serve as the basis for any termination action the mayor might take firing Walker and Tyson.

"The day after the [notice of violation] was issued, the D.C.-based International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) issued a press release calling for the resignation of Chief Judge Walker," the complaint states. "Notably, the IFPTE is the labor union that some of the [administrative law judges] at OAH attempted to join and seek recognition from during Chief Judge Walker's tenure as Chief [Administrative Law Judge]."

Walker and Tyson say that the investigation into them was illegally conducted, and want to enjoin the ethics board from continuing its proceedings against them. They also want an injunction stopping the mayor from firing Walker and stopping the interim chief administrative law judge from firing Tyson.

They demand immediate reinstatement as well.

Walker and Tyson are represented by Anthony Conti of Conti Fenn & Lawrence in Baltimore, Md.

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