Administrative hearings are legal proceedings that are handled outside of a formal court system. By and large, administrative hearings are less stringent than criminal or civil trials. While they generally work like a court trial, most hearings involve disputes that occur under the authority of a government agency. For example, if a department of social services denies a person welfare assistance, that person may have a right to appeal the decision. The appeal could result in an administrative hearing to determine whether the department of social services correctly denied the person welfare.
As with a court proceeding, each party to an administrative hearing typically has a chance to tell his or her version of the facts at dispute. During the hearing, the parties may present witnesses, conduct direct and cross examinations, and provide rebuttal evidence. Parties are also frequently allowed to make closing statements.
An administrative law judge (ALJ) or hearing examiner typically conducts the hearing. The ALJ or examiner is customarily required to maintain neutrality and cannot be personally involved with the case. In this role, the ALJ generally acts as judge and jury. He or she hears evidence, applies the law, and gives a verdict recommendation to the government agency. Usually, the agency – rather than the ALJ – renders the final decision in the case.
A variety of different issues can be presented at an administrative law hearing so long as they have some tie to a government agency. As a general rule, administrative hearings involve regulation of businesses or private citizens by a government agency. For example, a hearing may be conducted from an agency’s decision in matters relating to unemployment, child support, liquor licensing, or public assistance.
In some cases, administrative hearings are governed by general statutes while different laws apply in other cases. For instance, sometimes an administrative agency adopts a special set of rules that govern cases involving that agency. These laws will generally extend to an administrative proceeding. Parties to an administrative case include the administrative agency as well as any person who receives a complaint or who successfully appeals a decision made by an agency. Usually, the parties may elect to have an attorney represent them during the hearing.
Some jurisdictions have established a formal office of administrative hearings. These offices are designed to provide a centralized and more uniform method for handling administrative hearings that stem from multiple government agencies. An administrative hearing office typically handles a large volume and variety of cases.