Matters and disputes involving administrative law are handled through the administrative law system. Administrative hearings utilize many of the same processes and procedures used in traditional courtrooms. Whereas court proceedings are overseen by a judge, administrative hearings are conducted by an administrative law judge (ALJ). One of the major differences between a traditional court proceeding and an administrative hearing is that the presiding administrative law judge serves as the trier of fact. In other words, administrative law proceedings are virtually always conducted as bench trials.
When a party requests an administrative hearing, a notice of hearing will be sent to interested parties. The notice may include a short summary of the issues to be addressed at the hearing. Parties have the right to legal representation both before and during the hearing, but an attorney is not required.
In some instances, the administrative law judge will hold a prehearing conference with the parties. The goal of the prehearing conference is to:
Agree on undisputed facts;
Identify the nature and scope of the dispute;
Clarify misunderstandings; and
Set a timetable for the hearing.
The ALJ may also encourage the parties to work toward a settlement agreement during the prehearing conference.
During the Hearing
At the administrative hearing, the parties provide facts, evidence, and arguments in support of a particular resolution. The party who files the complaint or appeals a prior administrative decision has the burden of proof during the proceeding. Typically, the ALJ’s first matter of business will be addressing each exhibit that the parties intend to submit into evidence and ensuring that each side has a copy. Once the exhibits are accounted for, the ALJ will admit them into the hearing record. The ALJ then provides a summary of the issues to be discussed in the case and the matters to be decided.
As in a traditional court proceeding, each party presents an opening statement to the ALJ.
When a piece of evidence is admitted, it means that it may be relied upon and referred to by both parties and the ALJ. The parties are also allowed to call witnesses to testify. Witnesses are sworn in prior to providing testimony and are subject to the same perjury laws as witnesses during regular jury trials. At the end of the hearing, each party may provide a closing statement.
After the Hearing
Following the hearing, the ALJ may require the parties to submit a brief summarizing each party’s side of the case and advocating for each party’s desired outcome. Each hearing and the events that took place during the proceeding are recorded in some way, either by audio recording, videotaping, or a court reporter. Each party may purchase a copy of the transcript in order to help them prepare their brief, or to assist them with preparing an appeal if necessary.
After the parties submit their briefs, the ALJ must prepare a proposed decision or Final Decision. This document details the ALJ’s findings and ultimate decision in the matter. The ALJ must identify the applicable law, the relevant facts, and how the law applies to those facts. Once the ALJ has prepared a proposed decision, it is circulated to the parties. The parties then have a specific period of time to file written objections to the proposed decision, either in part or in its entirety. The ALJ then reviews the parties’ written objections and may modify the proposed decision or leave it unchanged.
The ALJ’s final decision is sent to the parties in writing along with a notice of each parties’ appeal rights. A party who disagrees with an ALJ’s ruling has the right to appeal the decision to an administrative appeals authority.