D.C.

OAH Chief Judge Mary Oates Walker, sparks controversy

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UPDATE: 15 judges in the D.C.'s Office of Administrative Hearings have come out against Chief Judge Mary Oates Walker after ABC7 ran two stories on how Walker does not actually hear any cases, and how Walker’s OAH granted a project to the husband of the agency’s General Counsel, Kiyo Oden..

“We write to express deep reservations about Chief Judge Mary Oates-Walker of the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) following an ABC News report that our agency’s relocation logistics contract went to a company owned by the husband of our General Counsel, Kiyo Oden. The resulting appearance of impropriety is especially concerning because Ms. Oden is a friend of the Chief Judge, and the Chief Judge has testified repeatedly in oversight hearings that she (the Chief) supervised the entire relocation project, which, according to ABC News, was not competitively bid,” according to a confidential letter from the judges addressed to the Chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, Phil Mendelson. 

Take a look at the full letter below.

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It may seem strange: If you wanted to appeal a decision by the district, you would come to the Office of Administrative Hearings—though, getting your case heard by the Chief Judge there is unlikely.

Though Mary Oates Walker, the Chief Judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings, does not actually hear any cases, she did just get more than a $10,000 raise, ABC7 has learned.

“I believe when you're a judge, and especially a chief judge, you need to hold yourself to a higher standard. And I don't think that has happened here at all,” said Dorothy Brizill, a government watch dog.

The honorable Mary Oates Walker said in a statement via a spokesperson, that “[hearing cases] is not one of the mandatory responsibilities of the position by law. The mandated responsibility…is to supervise the operation of the [agency].”

But, when ABC7 called half a dozen courts in the area, all of their chief judges said that they hear cases.

“It is a waste of taxpayer money,” said Theresa Foreman, a D.C. taxpayer.

It might surprise you to learn that Walker, the head of a D.C. agency, had never actually been a judge—let alone a chief judge—before Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her one in 2009. Prior to that, she had served on a couple of regulatory boards, but never wrote a single decision at either. So how did she get here?

“That was at a time when Mayor Fenty was appointing people who were friends of his, friends of his wife,” Brizill said.

Sources within the agency say Walker's husband and Fenty were indeed friends. OAH would not comment on the relationship, saying the mayor and council did their due diligence during the nomination process. But the couple donated to the mayor’s campaign and at one point, they were even neighbors.

Some may say, however, that this is the way Washington works.

“The old saying it’s not how much you know, it’s who you know in this town,” said D.C. taxpayer Ronald Nickens.

OAH's Press Release (6!14!12) (3)

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