D.C. Council Requires Schedule for Tech Upgrade at Office of Administrative Hearings Including Publishing Opinions
Fritz Mulhauser | June 16, 2021 | Last modified: June 19, 2021
The Office of Administrative Hearings after years of delay this week agreed to set a schedule for beginning electronic document filing and publishing online case information including opinions. These have been routine in other courts in the District, and nationwide, for many years.
The newly-confirmed chief judge, M. Colleen Currie, in her first budget hearing before the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations & Facilities, heard chairman Robert C. White Jr. (I-At Large) say that a chorus of public testimony showed “modernizing” OAH is “past due.”
Chief Judge Currie did not ask for augmented funds for the upgrades. And she agreed to provide a schedule for doing the work.
This was a dramatic reversal of excuses offered in recent years by OAH managers. To reverse this pattern, according to the Open Government Coalition testimony, earmarked funds and firm Council directions for the improvements are urgently needed to end repeated inaction blamed on budget problems. The Coalition written statement is here, and the oral testimony is available on the hearing video beginning at 0:34:47.
The committee is for the first time reviewing the agency budget under the leadership of Chairman White. The Coalition testimony provided a history lesson with details of the agency indifference to improved transparency for the tens of thousands who file appeals each year. Years of budget documents show vague promises and no progress.
The OAH is a central panel established by the D.C. Council several decades ago to standardize the review of protests of D.C. agency mistakes. Its work has been especially important during the pandemic to assure the flow of accurate and timely safety net benefits such as food stamps, unemployment and Medicaid.
A complaint filed by the Open Government Coalition led in 2020 to a formal finding by the Office of Open Government that the OAH failure to publish opinions in decided cases violated the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. Electronic publication of opinions in decided cases is intended to avoid a body of “secret law.”
Joining in the call for better information, so essential to the huge numbers of unrepresented participants in OAH cases, were attorney witnesses Sosseh Prom from the Council for Court Excellence and Alexis Christensen from the Legal Aid Society of D.C.
The Coalition will continue to report on progress starting with the promised plans. To share your experience of access to necessary information at the OAH, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.