How is an Administrative Hearing Different from a Court Hearing

When facing disciplinary proceedings concerning your professional or occupational license, you may have a hearing before an administrative law judge. These hearings occur when you cannot reach an agreement with your licensing agency about whether you violated a rule or law that applies to your profession or what penalties you should face for a violation. Administrative hearings are similar to court hearings, but they also differ from court hearings in several ways.

Administrative proceedings often go through the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). The Texas legislature created SOAH as an independent administrative hearing tribunal for individuals’ disputes with state agencies. As a result, many licensing and certification agencies for different professions use SOAH in contested disciplinary and licensing proceedings.

Application of Procedural Rules, Regulations, and Laws

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A set of state agency procedural rules generally governs hearings before SOAH, although other procedural rules apply in some contexts. In contrast, Texas state and federal courts have their own rules of procedure that govern how their proceedings operate.

However, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) employed at SOAH, and state and federal court judges apply relevant administrative regulations, state laws, and federal laws to the cases that they hear. In this respect, the ALJs and state and federal court judges act similarly.

Pre-Hearing Matters

Procedures before an administrative hearing are similar to those that occur before a court trial. Pre-hearing matters often occur more rapidly at SOAH than in a court, but the parties may engage in many of the same procedures.

Discovery

For example, the parties typically engage in the discovery process in both administrative and court proceedings. During discovery, the parties request and exchange information and evidence about the case. Some common forms of discovery in both forums include requests for disclosure, such as names of witnesses, interrogatories or a set of written questions, and requests to produce documents. Both sides to the dispute can utilize these discovery techniques.

Motions

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The ALJ also will consider and decide written motions that either party makes before the hearing. These motions can address different issues, such as postponing a scheduled hearing to a later date or getting permission to appear by phone or videoconference. The other party typically has a chance to respond to the motion, and the ALJ will then rule on the motion.

The Hearing Process

One major difference between administrative hearings and many court hearings is that there are no hearings before juries at SOAH. Juries solely operate in state and federal courts. Therefore, an administrative hearing is more like a court hearing that takes place solely in front of a judge.

Opening Statements

Both administrative and court hearings usually begin with opening statements from the attorneys for each party to the dispute. These statements summarize the case for the judge and briefly outline each party’s position on the disputed issues in the case.

Presentation of Evidence

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Next, each side has a chance to present evidence supporting their case. Evidence can take various forms, including documents, witness testimony, and more. Under Tex. Admin. Code §155.249, the Texas Rules of Evidence as applied in a nonjury civil case in district court govern contested case hearings at SOAH. As a result, both administrative hearings at SOAH and nonjury civil trials use the same evidentiary rules. SOAH also has additional rules about the presentation of exhibits in the administrative hearing context.

As the hearing progresses, whether in court or at SOAH, the court judge or ALJ will accept submissions of evidence and rule on any evidentiary disputes between the parties according to the Texas Rules of Evidence. These rulings could include sustaining or overruling any objections to witness testimony, documentary exhibits, or more.

Closing Statements

At the end of each type of hearing, each attorney will give a closing statement to summarize their respective cases. This process is common to both administrative and court hearings.

Issuing Decisions

The procedures for making a final decision vary from case to case at SOAH. Those procedures also are quite different from court hearings. Following a court hearing, a judge can take a case under advisement. The judge then will take some time before he or she issues a written decision on the case. This is called a Proposal for Decision .

However, in an administrative hearing, the procedures for issuing a decision often work quite differently. For example, many agency rules require the ALJ to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and a recommended decision to the governing board of the appropriate licensing agency. That board then can approve and adopt the decision, amend the decision, or take other actions. In other cases, the ALJ makes the final decision. Therefore, it depends on the specific agency as to whether the ALJ makes the ultimate decision after an administrative hearing.

Protect Your License by Getting Legal Representation at Your Administrative Hearing

If you face an administrative hearing before your professional licensing board or agency, you could be at risk of losing your license. In this situation, you will need assistance to defend your license right away. Take the steps necessary to protect your license from these potentially severe consequences at all costs. At Bertolino LLP, we offer experienced professional license defense services for individuals involved in various professions. Contact us today by calling (512) 476-5757 or reaching out to us online. We can examine your case and help you devise the legal strategy that is best designed to safeguard your professional license.

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