DES MOINES, Iowa — A former chief administrative law judge had plenty to say about Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert and nothing good. Joe Walsh accused Wahlert of bullying and trying to intimidate judges to rule in the favor of employers in their cases with unemployed Iowans’ appeals.
Walsh testified before the legislative oversight committee Tuesday, part of an all-day session for the Democrat-led body. Walsh told lawmakers, “She (Wahlert) is calculated. Her primary leadership tool is fear. She sends messages to her staff and others to scare them into doing what she wants. In my experience, her messages always had a purpose.”
Walsh found Wahlert’s efforts inappropriate as she eventually removed his supervisory position altogether in what he said Wahlert claimed was a budgetary move. That then made Wahlert, a Republican appointee of Governor Terry Branstad, the head of the IWD judges. And Walsh believes that puts her in a position to have undo political influence on judges, who are supposed to rule in a non-partisan manner.
Walsh, in a response to a lawmaker, did say he never saw any evidence judges showed bias in their rulings. He also said he met with Oversight Committee Chair Janet Petersen, a Des Moines Democrat, and Democratic legislative staffers last week.
Walsh has sued Wahlert following his dismissal.
Other administrative law judges testified about the increased stress associated with the job that has only increased under Wahlert’s watch, since the number of judges has been reduced.
One judge said it is actually Walsh who behaved inappropriately. Judge Teresa Hillary said, “I do want to point out I don’t think Joe Walsh treated me particularly fairly.”
She added, “Once he found I was providing accurate information to the director of the department, he wrote me up.”
Wahlert will be able to answer allegations for herself Wednesday when she testifies before the committee.