The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) is a quasi-judicial tribunal in California state government that is charged with hearing administrative disputes. OAH is established in state law and was created in 1945. It provides independent Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) to conduct hearings for over 1,500 state and local government agencies. According to its website, OAH provides both adjudication and alternative dispute resolution services.
OAH’s mission is to “provide a neutral forum for fair and independent resolution of administrative matters, ensuring due process and respecting the dignity of all.” There are more than ten thousand cases filed each year with OAH in three areas. According to OAH, about fifty percent of their General Jurisdiction cases and ninety-six percent of their Special Education cases are resolved without the need for hearing and decision.
OAH is actually based in the office of the California Department of General Services for administrative purposes. OAH has a Director, who is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate. Among number duties, the OAH Director appoints ALJs who act independently from the agencies appearing before OAH in hearings, mediations, and all other administrative matters.
The ALJs are fully independent of the agencies whose attorneys appear before them. The ALJ has the same relationship with each party — that of a neutral fact-finder. All OAH ALJs are required to have practiced law for at least five years before being appointed and they typically have over ten years of experience, according to OAH.
The role of these ALJs is to preside over administrative hearings in a manner similar to civil court trial judges unless local agency rules provide otherwise. OAH’s hearings are generally open to the public. Each party is given an opportunity to make an opening statement, call witnesses, and offer other relevant evidence. After all the evidence is submitted, the parties may make closing arguments, orally or in writing. In most cases, the ALJ in a particular case will prepare a detailed written decision within 30 days.
The major role of OAH is to hear cases when government agencies seek to discipline a licensee, such as those under the Department of Consumer Affairs, which licenses barbers to funeral directors, and doctors to day care providers. The licensee can request a hearing before OAH. In addition, some cities and counties actually contract with OAH to hear their employee discipline and disability retirement appeals.
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