Any legal process can be confusing, and the administrative hearing process is no different. An administrative hearing is a legal proceeding to review a state or local agency decision before an impartial administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The Administrative Procedure Act, RCW 34.05, is the general set of rules that governs the administrative hearing process, and the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) conducts the hearings. Each party to an administrative hearing has the right to present and question witnesses and to submit or challenge documents related to the local agency’s decision. The result of the proceeding is a decision to affirm, modify, or set aside the original agency decision.
The party against whom the agency decision has been issued must request the administrative hearing review of the agency decision within the designated time period. The timeline of events leading to a hearing generally has a similar pattern:
- Investigation. Most agency actions follow the filing of a complaint against, or the occurrence of an incident involving, the licensee (i.e. the person or entity governed by the local agency). The agency will then investigate the complaint or events surrounding the incident.
- Finding. The licensing or governing agency will then look at the investigative material and make one of three choices: 1) the agency will decide the complaint lacks merit or the licensee was not responsible for the incident, and the agency will not pursue the complaint/incident further; 2) the agency will offer a compromise or settlement, often in the form of a Stipulation to Informal Disposition (“STID”), which is a public document that is reported to any national database related to the license at issue; or 3) the agency will file a statement of charges against the licensee, which dictates the disciplinary action the agency intends to take.
- Statement of Charges. This document is the charging document. It sets out the agency’s grounds for discipline in the form of “facts,” and it informs the licensee of the proposed penalty. This is the stage at which the licensee must request an administrative hearing to review the agency’s decision. The statement of charges will include the deadline for filing this request. If a licensee does not file a request for an administrative hearing within the designated time period, the proposed penalty becomes final.
- Hearing. An administrative hearing before an ALJ is similar to a trial in superior or district court, except many of the evidentiary protections that safeguard a respondent in other court settings are not available in an administrative hearing. For example, hearsay is admissible, and the ALJ has broader discretionary powers regarding the admission of evidence. An ALJ may also directly intervene to establish the record the way the ALJ wants it to be.
As you can see, the administrative hearing process is complicated. Hiring an experienced attorney is well worth the expense, given that the outcome of this process can seriously harm your ability to work. The attorneys at the Rosenberg Law Group can guide you through this process, and we can help you prepare the strongest defense at the hearing. Call or write before it is too late!