Madeleine O'Neill//May 18, 2023
//May 18, 2023
A Prince George’s County circuit judge is heading to Kenya, where he will become the first American to serve full time on a United Nations tribunal that handles employment issues for the intergovernmental organization.
Judge Sean D. Wallace, who has served on the county’s circuit court since 2002, will move to Nairobi for his seven-year term on the United Nations Dispute Tribunal.
He retired from the Prince George’ County bench on May 1, though he has stayed on as a senior judge to wrap up pending cases. His term in Kenya begins July 1 and will end on June 30, 2030.
“It’s kind of an adventure at this stage,” Wallace said. “It’s a good time in my life and my wife’s to go and take this adventure.”
The United Nations Dispute Tribunal is made up of nine judges from across the globe, three of whom serve full time. The remaining judges serve part time.
The body hears employment disputes within the UN’s internal justice system — for example, if a UN Peacekeeper is fired or disciplined and wishes to challenge the decision, the case would go before the United Nations Dispute Tribunal. The UN employs tens of thousands of people worldwide and established the Dispute Tribunal, along with an Appeals Tribunal, in 2009.
The selection process for the judgeship was extensive. The UN received 380 applications from 78 countries, according to an Internal Justice Council report. Ninety candidates were then asked to take a written assessment in either English or French, the two working languages commonly used at the UN.
Thirty candidates received interviews and the Internal Justice Council went on to recommend four candidates for the Nairobi position to the UN General Assembly, which voted on a final selection.
Wallace, who has conducted several international trainings for judges in other countries, said he has visited Nairobi several times and felt the full-time judgeship there was a good fit.
“It’s a beautiful country, a beautiful city with lovely people, and it just seemed like everything was falling into place,” he said.
Wallace is the first American to be selected for a full-time position on the Dispute Tribunal. Other judges on the tribunal are stationed in New York and Geneva; the UN has major offices in each location, including Nairobi.
Wallace served as a circuit court judge in Prince George’s County for more than 20 years. Before he joined the bench, he worked as a county attorney there from 1999 until 2002, and was deputy or associate county attorney from 1988 to 1999.
Wallace said he has trained or consulted with judges from China, Tunisia and Myanmar. He also traveled to Kenya twice to train judges there and offered several remote trainings for judges in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m looking forward to the adventure, but I will miss working with my colleagues on the bench and at the bar, and the place I’ve called home for six decades,” Wallace said.g