After a licensing board begins an investigation and has issued formal charges/held an informal settlement conference, it will subsequently set the case for a hearing. The overwhelming majority of state agencies hold their hearings at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (or “SOAH”). SOAH is an independent agency that conducts independent hearings for other agencies. This separates the agency’s prosecutorial goals from the decision-making process. Some agencies still hold in-house hearings, but this is becoming less and less common.
At the Hearing
At SOAH, an administrative law judge (or “ALJ”) that will hear the evidence in your case. The ALJ will conduct the hearing similarly to a stereotypical trial. The state agency will act as the prosecutor, and your attorney will act as the defense. Both parties will make opening statements, call witnesses, present evidence, and make closing arguments. What types of arguments and evidence are presented will be different from case to case. For example, in a Chapter 53 case in which the agency seeks to deny a license based on criminal history, the agency’s evidence will often simply include presenting the past criminal convictions, whereas applicants or licensees will present evidence regard their character, work history, rehabilitation, and more.
Although the hearing will resemble a trial in many ways, there are some significant differences between a SOAH hearing and trials in court. For one, the rules of evidence are much more lax in SOAH hearings: Using the Chapter 53 example, the SOAH ALJ will be required to consider letters of recommendation written on the licensee’s behalf, even though these would be considered hearsay at an ordinary trial. Likewise, at most trials, the jury determines questions of fact and the judge determines questions of law, but at SOAH hearings, there will be no jury and the ALJ will determine both. Another substantial difference is that testimony can be delivered by telephone at SOAH hearings.
After the Hearing
Following the hearing, the ALJ will have 60 days to consider the evidence presented and render a proposal for decision (or “PFD”). This is not a final decision, but a proposal to be sent back to the agency. The ALJ’s PFD will include the judge’s recommendation for the case, as well as the findings of fact and conclusions of law. Additionally, the PFD will include a discussion of the relevant law, the evidence presented, and the judge’s analysis of the law and evidence.
After the ALJ issues the PFD, the parties have an opportunity to file exceptions asking the judge to change the proposal before it is sent to the agency. The parties can also respond to the exceptions filed by the opposing party. After the ALJ has had an opportunity to revise the PFD in light of any exceptions filed, the ALJ will submit the PFD to the agency’s board to consider it at their next meeting.
SOAH has recently made efforts to assist licensees that represent themselves at hearings, or “self-represented litigants.” For example, SOAH often provides excerpts of the relevant law when sending notices to parties. Nonetheless, FosterDanowsky strongly recommends that you consider hiring an attorney to represent you at SOAH. An experienced attorney will have not only greater knowledge of the law than a layperson but also the understanding of how to apply that law to your case.
As a professional, you understand the importance of skill and expertise. You have worked hard to earn your professional license and to develop your skill and expertise, and you deserve a skilled and experienced defense of your license. If you have any questions or comments about the material included here, please contact FosterDanowsky.
The information on this blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.