OGC Hearing Officer Program Process Overview
In the fall of 2003, the Office of General Counsel ("OGC") established a panel of hearing officers consisting of in-house hearing officers along with select outside attorneys possessing experience with Commonwealth administrative practice to conduct administrative proceedings throughout the Commonwealth. Outside hearing officers are appointed by the General Counsel.
In 2009, the program was updated to provide for unified contracting of outside hearing officer services rather than having each agency enter into separate legal service contracts and interagency memoranda of understanding. Executive agencies who avail themselves of the Hearing Officer Program are signatories to a Master Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU"), and the Commonwealths Department of General Services facilitates the centralized contract. The MOU memorializes the relationship and expectations between those agencies with in-house hearing officers who are available to conduct hearings ("hearing officer agencies") and those agencies with a need for a hearing officer ("requesting agencies"). The MOU creates a "hearing officer panel" comprised of hearing officers from those agencies who already have dedicated staff for that purpose, as supplemented by outside hearing officers. Agencies with established hearing officer staff - such as the Department of State - continue to hear cases through those agencies respective personnel; those agencies are subject to some general oversight and accountability by the OGC central executive office and have agreed to make their hearing officers available to serve on a centralized hearing officer panel when the need arises.
The MOU also describes the process for requesting hearings and requires coordination by all agencies with the Chief Hearing Officer:
- Requests for hearings are initially sent from the appropriate state agency ("requesting agency") to the OGC executive offices.
- The Chief Hearing Officer assigns a hearing officer.
- The appointed hearing officer hears the case and prepares the initial decision. A hearing officer usually is assigned within two (2) business days of receipt of a referral request. Hearings are usually scheduled within two weeks of assignment and held within one to two months of assignment depending upon the availability of counsel and compliance with the notice requirements of the Sunshine Law.