President Obama on Tuesday named attorney Elaine D. Kaplan, the current general counsel for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, as one of two nominees to become a judge on the United States Court of Federal Claims.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kaplan would become the second out gay person to serve on the specialized court, which hears cases brought by citizens against the federal government to recover monetary damages.
In 2009, Obama appointed Federal Claims Court Judge Emily C. Hewitt, a lesbian, to become the court’s chief judge. Hewitt, whose 15-year term on the court ends in October, was first appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
On Tuesday, Obama also nominated attorney Patricia E. Campbell-Smith to become a judge on the Court of Federal Claims. Campbell-Smith has been serving since 2005 as a special master for the court as part of its program to adjudicate cases involving vaccine related injuries.
“These nominees have dedicated their careers to serving the public good,” the president said in a statement released by the White House. “And in so doing, they have displayed an unyielding commitment to justice and integrity,” he said.
“I am certain that they will serve the American people well from the Court of Federal Claims, and I am honored to nominate them today,” Obama said.
Kaplan has served as general counsel for OPM since 2009 under gay OPM Director John Berry, who was one of Obama’s first high-level gay appointees.
Prior to joining the Obama administration, Kaplan worked from 2004 to 2009 as Senior Deputy General Counsel for the National Treasury Employees Union and from 2003 to 2004 as an attorney for the D.C. law firm Bernabei and Katz.
In 1998, Kaplan was nominated by President Bill Clinton and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to serve as director of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, where she served a designated five-year term that extended into the first two years of the administration of President George W. Bush.
Congress created the Office of Special Counsel as an independent agency intended to protect the merit-based U.S. civil service system by investigating and prosecuting complaints of prohibited personnel practices against federal government employees. The OSC is also charged with protecting whistleblowers who report instances of government misconduct or waste from improper reprisals.
Kaplan made news during her tenure as OSC chief when she strengthened protections against discrimination based on federal employees’ sexual orientation, citing a provision in the existing U.S. civil service law that she interpreted to cover LGBT employees.
She became the subject of further news reports after completing her term at the OSC when her successor named by Bush, anti-gay attorney and religious right figure Scott J. Bloch, reversed her policy toward gay federal workers. In an action that created an uproar among LGBT activists, Bloch declared that that no legal protections existed for gay or lesbian federal workers targeted for employment discrimination.
During her tenure as general counsel for the NTEU, Kaplan criticized Bloch for his actions as OSC head. Bloch subsequently became the target of an investigation by the FBI, which raided his office and home following allegations that he improperly sought to purge employees at the OSC who disagreed with him and allegedly was responsible for hiring a computer company to “scrub” files from his office computer. He resigned from his OSC position in 2008.
Shortly after pleading guilty in 2011 for contempt of Congress, for allegedly failing to disclose information requested during a congressional hearing, Bloch filed a lawsuit against more than a dozen people he claimed conspired to have him ousted from his job at the OSC. Among those named in the lawsuit, which sought $202 million damages, were Kaplan, Berry, and the Human Rights Campaign, which Bloch accused of conspiring with Kaplan and others to oust him from his job.
According to a clerk at the Fairfax County, Va., Circuit Court where Bloch filed the lawsuit, Circuit Court Judge Jane Roush dismissed the lawsuit on June 29, 2012 without prejudice. The “without prejudice” dismissal gave Bloch the option of filing the case again within six months under Circuit Court rules, but the clerk said there is no record of him having done so.
D.C. attorney Debra Katz, who was also named as a defendant in Bloch’s lawsuit, told the Blade the judge dismissed the case on grounds of “failure to prosecute” because Bloch, who represented himself in court, never served any of the named defendants with a complaint or summons.