Another week, another campaign supporter of Mayor Vince Gray’s who landed a cushy job with the District’s Medicaid agency and turns out to have legal problems.
Talib Karim, a Gray backer who recently began a $133,000-a-year job as chief of staff in the Department of Health Care Finance, appears to have used physical force on his ex-wife, according to D.C. Court of Appeals rulings that upheld a protective order against him issued by a Superior Court judge.
Just last week, another Gray supporter, Sulaimon Brown, was fired from his newly landed job as a special assistant for the very same department after concerns arose about his past legal trouble, including a protective order issued against him. Karim’s hiring raises even more uncomfortable questions about the Gray administration’s vetting and hiring process, and about Gray’s judgment in placing supporters in upper-level positions in a department that handles close to a quarter of the District’s overall budget. (The department deals with Medicaid and administers other public health insurance programs, serving approximately a third of the District’s residents.)
Karim’s most notable legal problems began in January 2008, when his wife called the police to report a domestic disturbance, according to a Court of Appeals ruling issued July 1, 2010. His wife, Delicia Gunn, filed a petition to get a protective order against Karim. In the petition, Gunn says she and Karim had a heated argument on Jan. 5, 2008, and she called the police twice. When she went to court to get a judge to approve the protective order, Gunn said Karim had on various occasions “pushed me while I’m holding [the couple’s five-month-old] baby,” and had “grabbed my arm and tried to force me from not leaving my house” and “would pin me down and not let me move and I would constantly tell him to let go of me, to get off of me, but he just wouldn’t.”
Gunn told Judge Lee Satterfield, who is now the chief judge of D.C. Superior Court, that Karim hadn’t struck her, but “could see it in his eyes that it was a matter of time.” Gunn also told the court that police had removed a rifle from their home; Karim said the rifle was his father’s firearm from the Korean War.
In court, Karim denied any physical abuse and said his wife had been the one doing the hitting. “Despite that, I never returned any type of strike or blow to her when she struck me,” Karim said, according to court records. Karim also maintained that his wife had filed a protective order against him in order to gain leverage in a custody battle over their child.
The hearing did not go well for Karim, who is an attorney and represented himself. Satterfield became exasperated and lost patience with Karim’s lack of preparation for the hearing, according to appeals court records. Karim “recognized that he was doing a poor job in representing himself,” and asked the judge to reschedule the case, the court of appeals wrote. Satterfield said no, “finding it hard to believe that a member of the bar could have been so ill-informed, and made so little inquiry, about the nature of the proceedings.”
After the hearing, Satterfield granted Gunn a protective order, basing his decision “on his assessment of the credibility and demeanor” of both her and Karim. The judge found that “since the [couple’s] child was born, and during the course of the marriage...[Karim] has pushed [Gunn], has aggressively held her down and grabbed her against her will.” Karim appealed. And in affirming Satterfield’s ruling, the court of appeals said evidence suggested that Gunn’s prime concern for filing the protective order “may not have been primarily related to domestic violence,” but there was “adequate if not overwhelming” evidence that the judge made the right decision in regard to “intrafamily offenses,” while noting that “the level of any violence was not at all extreme.”
The court of appeals also ruled that Satterfield correctly rejected Karim’s request to reschedule the hearing “solely because the husband belatedly regretted his improvident decision to represent himself.” (Which LL believes is the legalistic way to phrase the old saw about a lawyer who represents himself having a fool for a client.)
In an interview, Karim tells LL his wife had prevailed in her “allegations” because she’d been represented by a lawyer, which he says he couldn’t afford at the time of the hearing. He says a “subtle” reading of the appeal court’s decision shows that his lack of an attorney was the real reason why he lost, not because of the facts of the case. He then disparages Washington City Paper, saying the paper only reports the most “salacious” details about city politics so other media will follow along. Then he says it would be improper for LL to write about Karim’s personal past and do damage to his department and its important work.
“I would imagine that we’ve all had problems with our families,” Karim says. “It would be one thing if I had committed some kind of heinous crime.”
Gunn filed a second protective order against Karim in January 2010, saying he was harassing her on a continuous basis and she was “fearful of her life and safety.” A judge signed a temporary order, before Gunn asked in March 2010 that the case be dismissed because she said Karim had stopped harassing her. Gunn did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Besides the protective orders, court records show that Karim had a $5,522 federal tax lien filed against him in 2003. He’s also been sued multiple times by a landlord and alleged to have defaulted on student loans and not paid child support. Karim says he’s had financial problems in his past and is working to resolve them.
Karim is the brother of Omar Karim, a developer and fraternity brother to former Mayor Adrian Fenty who is at the heart of an ongoing council investigation into allegedly improper park construction contracts. Omar Karim’s company, Banneker Ventures, hired Gunn’s engineering firm for $70,000 to do work related to the park contracts, according to The Washington Post.
Talib Karim briefly made news during last year’s mayoral campaign when his organization, the Muslim Democratic Caucus, endorsed Gray. The Post reported that Gray was shocked by the endorsement and Karim’s political split from his brother, an ardent Fenty supporter.
“I literally fell on the floor,” Gray told the Post after Karim’s group voted to endorse him in August.
The endorsement lead to Karim working on Gray’s transition team. On the Muslim Democratic Caucus’s Yahoo! Group message board, Karim posted notices about meetings for caucus members to learn more about efforts to “help Muslims in DC secure jobs in the incoming Gray administration and DC Council.” Karim told caucus members that if they were interested in a District government job, they should submit their résumés directly to him.
In a later message, Karim wrote that “businesses and entrepreneurs interested in forming key relationships with the new Administration can email [Karim] to purchase tickets for the Muslim Dems VIP seating” at the Gray inauguration.
And in a message marked “DC Muslim Dems Make History,” Karim wrote that on Dec. 31, 2010, Gray “[lived] up to his promise to include the Muslim community in his Administration, [and appointed] Talib I. Karim, Chairman of the Muslim Democratic Caucus of DC, as a top official in the Department of Health Finance.” (The Post first reported last week that Karim had been hired.)
The department is actually called the Department of Health Care Finance. Karim says the transition team recommended him for the job. City records show he started working for DHCF on Jan. 3, 2011, the first full day of Gray’s administration and two weeks before DHCF Director Wayne Turnage took the reins of the department. Last week, when questioned about the hiring and firing of Sulaimon Brown—who has accused the mayor of lying and has strongly suggested Gray promised him a job prior to taking office—Turnage said emphatically that “all decisions about personnel begin and end with me.”
Gray’s spokeswoman, Linda Wharton-Boyd, tells LL the administration is looking into Karim’s background. “The initial vetting process only revealed financial challenges and an intra-family/child custody dispute with a former wife,” she e-mails. “Given the mayor’s Monday directive of an extensive top down review of all excepted service appointees, additional details have come to light. The matter is under review by the agency director.”
The parts of Karim’s résumé that are available online show he’s had a varied career. His previous jobs include working as a counsel on Capitol Hill, first for Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and more recently for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Karim says much of the work he did on the Hill was related to health care–related issues.
Karim tells LL he was a “natural fit” to be paired with Turnage, who recently worked for the state of Virginia. Why? Because Karim is familiar with how to navigate the world of District politics and government. LL can’t argue with him there.