You typically first receive notice of a complaint about your professional, medical, or vocational license from the agency that handles the regulation and licensing of your profession. Once that agency completes its investigation, you will receive notice of the agency’s findings. In some cases, the agency may find that you violated the rules or laws that govern your profession, as well as proposed sanctions or disciplinary measures for those violations.
Not all cases involving licensing violations or disciplinary action go to a hearing, as many resolve themselves through negotiations, mediation, or other informal processes. However, you may disagree with the findings that you committed a rules violation or broke the law, that you should receive the recommended discipline, or both. In that situation, your next step is to turn to the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).
Functions of the SOAH
The Texas Government Code establishes the SOAH, a centralized administrative hearing tribunal, to adjudicate some types of contested cases. SOAH is an independent agency from other state agencies so that parties can receive a neutral and unbiased decision. These cases include various state agencies’ licensing and certification complaints and violations.
A set of state agency procedural rules governs general hearings before SOAH, although other procedural rules apply in some contexts. These rules guide the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) employed at SOAH to apply relevant administrative regulations, state laws, and federal laws to the cases before them. The ALJs are neutral and impartial hearing officers who do not work for the state licensing agency and have no prior knowledge of your case.
ALJ mediators also provide confidential mediation for parties involved in licensing cases. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that potentially can resolve a case before it goes to an administrative hearing. However, if mediation fails, you still have the right to have a hearing before a different ALJ than the one who served as your mediator.
When you disagree or otherwise cannot agree with your licensing agency about your alleged violations of rules or laws applicable to your profession, you can ask for a hearing before the SOAH. The licensing agency also can initiate proceedings at the SOAH, depending on the agency involved.
The SOAH will assign an ALJ to your case and schedule the case for hearing. This process will give you the chance to tell your side of the story and the opportunity to fight back against the agency that is attempting to suspend, revoke, or otherwise sanction you for alleged violations.
Procedures before an administrative hearing are similar to those that occur in court. For example, the parties typically engage in the discovery process, which allows you to request documents and other information about your case from the state agency. Some common forms of discovery include requests for disclosure, such as names of witnesses, interrogatories, a set of written questions, and requests for the production of documents. The state agency can also use these discovery techniques to get information about your case.
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 Hearing Process
Like most trials in a courtroom, a SOAH hearing allows both sides to present evidence, including documents and witness testimony, to support their positions on the issues involved in the case. The hearing usually begins with opening statements from your attorney and an attorney representing the licensing board. Next, the state licensing board attorney will present evidence and witness testimony to support their findings of violations and the appropriate sanctions.
Next, your attorney will present your defense to the allegations against you using the same types of evidence. Throughout the hearing, the ALJ will accept evidence submissions and rule on any evidentiary disputes between the parties according to the applicable rules of procedure. The ALJ also will address any objections that arise during witness testimony.
At the end of the hearing, each attorney will give a closing statement to summarize their respective cases. The procedures for making a final decision vary, but in many cases, the ALJ will submit a proposed decision to the governing board of the appropriate licensing agency. That board then has the power to approve and adopt the decision, amend the decision, or take other actions. However, in other cases, the ALJ makes the final decision in a licensing case.
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Don’t Attend Your SOAH Hearing Without Legal Representation
SOAH hearings are formal and require the understanding and application of procedural and substantive rules throughout those hearings. As a result, having an experienced administrative hearing license defense attorney can be essential to a positive outcome in your case.
You can reach the offices of Bertolino, LLP by calling (512) 476-5757 today or filling out our contact form online.