The Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) can provide state and local government agencies with skilled hearing officers to conduct hearings of contested disputes or to mediate settlements. The legislature created OAH in 1975 to provide state agencies and local government with impartial adjudicators trained to consider evidence, make findings and recommend action to the decision maker. For 25 years administrative law judges at OAH have successfully conducted hearings for state agencies, cities, counties, towns, school districts and other public entities.
What Kind of Work Does OAH Do?
Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) conduct four kinds of proceedings:
Trial-like hearings for state agencies.
Rulemaking hearings for state agencies where public testimony is heard.
Hearings for local units of government on a variety of issues, upon request.
Settlement conferences and mediations.
Workers compensation judges hear benefit claims from injured workers. Each year, OAH’s administrative law judges and workers’ compensation judges preside over several thousand hearings throughout the State of Minnesota. OAH has offices in St. Paul and Duluth. OAH judges travel to conduct hearings in many other communities throughout the state.
What Services does OAH provide for Local Government?
The legislature has authorized OAH to contract with local political subdivisions such as cities, counties, school districts, towns, or other entities to provide administrative law judges to conduct trial-like (contested case) hearings and to serve as mediators to settle disputes. The ALJ presides at the hearing, hears the testimony and prepares findings of fact and a recommendation for the final decision maker, such as the City Council. When an ALJ serves as a mediator, the ALJ facilitates settlement discussions between the parties to a dispute.
What Types of Hearings do ALJ’s Conduct for Local Government?
ALJs conduct a variety of license revocation or suspension hearings for municipalities, such as liquor licenses, tobacco licenses, taxi licenses, and food vendor licenses. Public employee discharge or suspension cases are often referred to OAH. ALJs also conduct student expulsion and teacher discharge hearings for school districts. Other matters referred to OAH for hearing include municipal code violations such as nuisance or animal control problems, zoning disputes, and special assessment appeals.
What’s the Cost?
OAH bills for the services of ALJs on an hourly basis. The rate for FY 2012 is $165 per hour. Hourly charges include hearing time, writing time and travel time. Expenses such as lodging, meals and mileage are billed when the judges must travel outside the metro area. OAH staff attorneys are often involved in the preparation of recommended written orders. Staff attorney time is billed at $80 per hour for FY 2012. OAH provides detailed invoices to agencies that show what time was expended by the judge or staff attorney and at what activity.
When and Where are the Hearings Held?
Hearings are usually held at the location specified by the agency involved. Normally hearings are scheduled for locations convenient for the parties and witnesses. Common hearing facilities include conference rooms, jury rooms, city council chambers, county commissioner boardrooms, or courtrooms. Hearing rooms are also available at OAH if a neutral location is desirable. The agency normally also specifies the date of the hearing and OAH finds an ALJ available for that date.
Why Do Local Government Agencies Hire OAH?
Reasons expressed to OAH for referring cases include:
lack of time on the part of the local decision maker to hear a case,
the need for a professional decision making process that will hold up upon court review,
the need for impartiality in politically sensitive cases, and
cost effectiveness when compared to hiring an attorney to serve as a hearing officer.
ALJs are experienced in limiting hearings to relevant matters, and in conducting the hearing efficiently and cost effectively. The ALJ will usually have expertise in the subject matter of the hearing, as well as experience in preparing concise findings from an administrative record. However, the ALJ cannot provide legal advice to the parties.
Are There Rules for How Administrative Contested Case Proceedings Are Conducted?
Rules for hearings may be set out in statute, municipal ordinance or city charter. But the parties may agree to use the procedural rules of OAH that apply to state agency hearings if they wish to do so. Hearings are usually informal and most last a half-day or less. The hearings are tape-recorded, and a copy of the tape is available if requested. A transcript can also be prepared from the tape for a charge. OAH also maintains a list of qualified court reporters who are available upon request.
Can the Services be Tailored to the Needs of the Agency?
Yes. Typically the ALJ conducts the hearing, hears testimony and receives written exhibits and then prepares written findings of fact, conclusions and a recommendation. In license cases, recommendations are not specific, but merely indicate whether or not disciplinary action is appropriate. The ALJs report and the record of the hearing are then forwarded to the agency for a final decision. However, ALJs have also conducted hearings without any written work product, have provided a summary of testimony instead of findings, have provided oral findings, have provided legal instructions to decision makers without findings, and have provided specific recommendations or final decisions when requested.
What is the Advantage of Mediation to Settle a Dispute?
Mediation is a process where the parties meet with an impartial mediator who will help them reach an agreement to resolve the dispute that is acceptable to both parties. Mediation is less adversarial, may help the parties preserve a relationship and may save time. All ALJs have received training as mediators and several have extensive experience in the process.
Are Attorneys Required?
No. Cities, counties and school districts are normally represented by their attorney in these proceedings, but it’s not required. Likewise, other parties may, but are not required to, have an attorney present. ALJs are experienced in conducting hearings with unrepresented parties while making sure an adequate record is developed to support a decision.
How Can I Request Hearing Services?
Contact the OAH Docket Coordinator, Diane Nordstrom, at 651-361-7906. The Docket Coordinator will ask you some questions about your hearing such as a proposed date and location, the issues in the case, the attorneys involved, the expected length of the hearing, and whether media attention is anticipated. The Docket Coordinator will then check the OAH calendar and promptly assign an ALJ to your case. The Docket Coordinator will also send you a simple contract covering the services to be provided.
How Can I Find out More about OAH or the Hearing Process?
This website contains a description of the office, biographies of the ALJs, OAH rules, and access to past decisions of OAH. You can also direct questions to the Docket Coordinator or ask to talk to an ALJ supervisor or a staff attorney about our services for local government.