The D.C. Council unanimously approved legislation today that will require all attorneys, hearing officers, and administrative law judges who perform legal duties for the District government to file an annual “Certificate of Good Standing” with the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability by Dec. 15. At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, chair of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, introduced the measure “to prevent the unethical practice of law without a bar license,” he said in a press release.
The legislation was introduced in response to Washington City Paper reports of “alleged inappropriate transfers from the Workers’ Compensation Fund as well as past compensation claims that were adjudicated by an administrative law judge who was not licensed to practice law,” Orange said. “An ALJ with the D.C. Department of Employment Services resigned last December after issuing hundreds of decisions as a DOES workers’ compensation judge over the past 16 years, despite having their license revoked in 1998. It was a gross neglect of justice.”
Orange held a hearing on Sept. 26 after City Paper, in February, exposed the 1998 disbarment of Judge Anand K. Verma and Verma’s subsequent failure to get re-licensed, as required by District law. The D.C. Court of Appeals has since ordered a judicial review panel at DOES to decide whether employees affected by those rulings are entitled to new hearings. In a case that was pending before the Court of Appeals at the time the controversy arose, the D.C. Attorney General’s office has argued that Verma was acting as a “de facto judge,” and therefore his rulings over the course of those 16 years should stand.
At the September hearing, city officials also were called to account for the diversion of tens of millions of dollars from the city’s troubled workers’ compensation program that went to bolster the city budget and hire “transitional” employees, among other uses. Orange launched both inquiries in response to City Paper reports that DOES has lacked consistent leadership for years, and that the panel of judges that hears workers’ comp cases has suffered from attrition, internal stress, and dysfunction, according to the agency and myriad sources familiar with the program.
Orange has stated that he thinks the city should restore more than $24 million in restricted funds that were transferred from the program and used for non-designated purposes, although he has not taken any formal steps on that issue.
For the time being, Orange has used his oversight authority to pass new legislation that he says “will prevent further abuse by unlicensed attorneys in the District government as well as maintain the integrity of attorneys working for the District government. This bill will help to renew public confidence in attorneys working in a legal capacity for the District government.”
Photo of Vincent Orange by Darrow Montgomery