Ousted Judge Sues DC Over Election Rules

WASHINGTON (CN) – An administrative law judge claims in federal court that her due-process rights were violated when she was forced to resign over an alleged violation of an unconstitutional ethics policy.

Claudia Barber says chief administrative law judge Eugene Adams, who she named as a defendant in the 23-page complaint filed April 7, conspired with others to force her resignation – sullying her reputation and thwarting her professional advancement.

“Defendant Adams’ interpretation of Section V(U) of the OAH Code of Ethics bars ALJs who do not reside in the District of Columbia, such as plaintiff Barber, from participating in judicial elections to become judges in states such as Maryland where trial judges are elected, and requires ALJs who do run in elections such as the Maryland election for circuit court judges to resign from employment or be terminated,” the complaint states, abbreviating the Office of Administrative Hearings and administrative law judge.

“As such, Section V(U) of the OAH Code of Ethics is unconstitutional on its face, arbitrary and cannot be sufficiently justified by government interests,” Barber says in the complaint.

Barber worked at the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings for more than a decade, and had sought a vacant judgeship at the Anne Arundel County court in Maryland.

According to Barber, she sought but received muddied advice about whether she needed to resign because of conflicting ethics guidelines from her employer and Canon 4 of the Annotated Model Code of Conduct.

As noted in the complaint, the former stipulates administrative law judges should resign if they become a candidate in a partisan primary for a judicial vacancy, while the latter says that is unnecessary.

According to her own research, the American Bar Association had determined that Maryland’s judicial elections are nonpartisan, the complaint alleges, an assertion that Barber says an ethics expert backed up.

Barber claims in the lawsuit that she first asked the District of Columbia Commission on Selection and Tenure for an advisory opinion, but it referred her to the District of Columbia Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.

According to the complaint, Barber got a mixed review from the latter: the board said she was not prohibited from running in an election that the D.C. Board of Elections does not regulate, but could offer no opinion on whether such an act would comply with Office of Administrative Hearings ethics rules.

About two weeks after she filed her paperwork in pursuit of the judgeship, Maryland attorney Ronald Jarashow, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, wrote to Adams and demanded that Barber resign or be terminated.

Barber claims she received a letter notifying her of an ethics violation for registering to run in the Maryland judicial race shortly after she lodged a complaint that Adams had allowed white administrative law judges to skip a mandatory diversity training.

“Chief Administrative Law Judge Adams cited the Maryland Court of Appeals decision, Suessmann v. Lamone, for the contention that a judicial election is partisan,” the complaint states.

The letter scolded her for not making more of an effort to determine if the election was partisan, and said case law should have guided her, according to the complaint.

But Barber says her predicament escalated beyond the alleged ethics violation before formal proceedings were initiated against her.

“Chief Administrative Law Judge Adams noted that ALJ Barber’s campaign website represented that she had received the highest ratings for all years as an ALJ, and stated that be believed that ALJ Barber used her ALJ position for her private interests,” the complaint states.

“ALJ Barber’s confidential personnel information was shared with defendant Jarashow before formal proceedings were instituted against ALJ Barber,” the complaint states. “Defendant Jarashow then published this information to the press.”

Barber says in the lawsuit that Jarashow did this to publicly humiliate her.

After refusing to resign, Barber was placed on administrative leave and deprived of a meaningful opportunity to respond to the ethics allegations, formally and in the court of public opinion.

Barber was removed from her post, and found in violation of the Office of Administrative Hearings ethics code after her ethics expert was not allowed to testify.

On election day, Barber claims that Jarashow passed out flyers with her picture and a misleading statement that she had been fired for an ethics violation without noting that she was appealing “based on the exercise of her constitutional right to run for office in a non-partisan election to become a judge.”

Neither Barber’s attorney David Branch nor the District of Columbia government responded to emailed requests for comment about the lawsuit.

Barber is asking for unspecified compensatory damages and no less than $10 million in punitive damages.

 

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