A federal appeals court in Washington has refused to shut down a lawsuit that claims the Department of Housing and Urban Development interfered with the independence of an administrative law judge.
The U.S. Justice Department had urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to uphold the dismissal of the suit, which claims an official at HUD, who has since retired, meddled in the work of the agency's chief administrative law judge, J. Jeremiah Mahoney.
The appeals court said in an order published August 7 that the judicial independence allegations included in Mahoney's appeal will be presented to a merits panel. The court, however, voided other parts of the case, including claims of retaliation and a hostile work environment.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington dismissed the suit in November, saying that Mahoney had not shown how he was harmed by any of the alleged interference.
Mahoney said, among other things, that HUD officials selectively assigned cases based on political considerations and failed to provide adequate resources for legal research. The judge also said the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) failed to protect his judicial independence.
"The court is not unsympathetic to Judge Mahoney's concerns," Boasberg wrote. The judge said if Mahoney's "allegations are true, the court is inclined to agree that all is not well" at HUD's office of hearings and appeals.
Boasberg said Mahoney did not allege that interference from agency officials influenced how he ruled in cases before him. "In other words, his judicial independence was not compromised by, for example, a requirement that he rule a particular way in certain cases," Boasberg wrote in his decision.
An assistant U.S. attorney, Addy Schmitt, urged the D.C. Circuit to summarily affirm (PDF) Boasberg's ruling on standing grounds.
The selective assignment of cases and ex parte contact with parties could have harmed people appearing in front of Mahoney, Schmitt said, but none of the alleged misconduct hurt the judge.
A lawyer for Mahoney, Kirkland & Ellis partner Michael Williams, was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon. Kirkland is representing Mahoney pro bono.
Mahoney said in a recent interview that he isn't bitter and holds no resentment toward HUD officials.
"The matter is still in litigation however, because I want to make sure—however unlikely—that this never happens again, and that OPM and the agencies that employ ALJs are held to their statutory duties to maintain the judicial independence of all federal ALJs," Mahoney said in an email.
Two associations that advocate for administrative law judges are backing Mahoney in the fight in the appeals court. The D.C. Circuit hasn’t set an argument date.