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Inspector general: Judge's claim of pro-Coast Guard bias unfounded

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
  • A judge claimed she was told to always rule for the Coast Guard in cases
  • She served in the Coast Guard's administrative law judge program
  • An inspector general's report found her claim cannot be substantiated

Washington (CNN) -- A judge's claim that she was ordered to always rule in the U.S. Coast Guard's favor in cases against civilian mariners cannot be substantiated, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general concluded Tuesday.

The inspector general also concluded that the judge's two-year delay in coming forward with the allegation casts doubt on her veracity.

Inspector General Richard L. Skinner's 53-page report is a nearly complete victory for the Coast Guard's administrative law judge program, which hears cases brought against merchant mariners, and a repudiation of retired Administrative Law Judge Jeffie J. Massey, who claimed the system was rigged in the Coast Guard's favor.

Massey, a judge from July 2004 until March 2007, said in a court affidavit and later testified before Congress that Chief Administrative Law Judge Joseph N. Ingolia specifically told her in 2005 that she should always rule for the Coast Guard. Massey also said comments by fellow judges buttressed her belief that the Coast Guard should prevail on all cases.

"I was specifically told that I should always rule for the Coast Guard and that it I ever found myself faced with a circumstance when I just absolutely, positively could not find anyway to rule in favor of the Coast Guard on any issue, that I should rule against them, but word it delicately and just apologize for it as much as I could," she said.

But the DHS Inspector General's Office concluded Tuesday that, "There is no evidence supporting... Massey's claim except her own statement."

Massey's brief employment at the Coast Guard "was rife with conflict" and there was a "growing distrust" between her and colleagues, the report says. "These factors likely contributed to ... Massey's belief that (her boss) and others were engaging in misconduct and pressuring her to rule against mariners," it says.

Massey's allegations roiled the administrative law judge's office of the Coast Guard and sparked an investigation by the Baltimore Sun into the Coast Guard's judicial system. The newspaper reported that mariners prevailed only 14 times out of about 6,300 charges brought over eight years.

Most of the cases were settled or resulted in guilty pleas without reaching a courtroom, and some were dismissed, but overall Coast Guard prosecutors had a 97 percent success rate, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The Skinner report, parts of which are redacted, apparently does not address the numerical findings of the Baltimore Sun.

Massey said it was at an April 8, 2005, meeting that Ingolia told her to always rule in favor of the Coast Guard. Ingolia dismissed all but one colleague from the room before making the remark, she said.

Massey cited several other reasons she believed she was to have a pro-Coast Guard bias. In one instance, she said, a fellow judge commented about one of his cases, saying, "If I ruled that way, the Chief Judge would have my job." In yet another instance, Massey alleged, Ingolia and others engaged in improper conversations about pending cases.

But the inspector general's office said it could not substantiate any of Massey's allegations. Both Ingolia and the senior staff member present at the 2005 meeting said Ingolia "did not say anything that could reasonably be construed as directing ALJ Massey to rule in favor of the Coast Guard," the inspector general's report said. "Instead, they assert that (Ingolia) only instructed her to follow Coast Guard's regulations."

The staffer called Massey's allegation "a flat lie."

Massey first made her allegation two months after she retired in an affidavit in support of a mariner in a $15 million lawsuit against Coast Guard employees. "The timing and manner in which Massey made her allegations also undermine the gravity of the allegations," the report says.