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The Division of Administrative Hearings is a state agency that manages administrative law proceedings, resolving issues between an individual and state government agencies. A government agency or regulatory body is almost always a party the proceedings. Administrative law hearings are conducted in a manner similar to court trial proceedings.
The cases in the Division of Administrative Hearings are presided over by an administrative law judge. The state agency involved is usually represented by an attorney for the agency. In some jurisdictions, the agency is represented by an assistant attorney general. In these states, the attorney general is statutorily mandated to represent all state officials and agencies. In other jurisdictions, an agency may be represented by a designated official of the agency.
The rules governing administrative hearings are generally the same as those for a state court. However, there may be some particular administrative rules that govern the hearing. An administrative law judge has the discretion to relax the rules of evidence when a private party is proceeding without the benefit of counsel. The hearings themselves are more informal than court hearings. Nonetheless, parties may still make opening and closing statements, offer documents into evidence, call witnesses, and make objections.
In some jurisdictions, the parties may be required by statute to attempt mediation prior to having the case heard in the Division of Administrative Hearings. Sometimes this requirement is restricted to certain types of cases, like workers compensation or employment discrimination. In some instances, this will resolve the issue and no hearing is necessary.
Hearings can involve a challenge to a rule of an administrative agency regarding either the rule’s validity or its application to a specific set of facts. More often, hearings involve an agency decision that affects a substantial interest of a private party. Agency decisions can involve many different areas of governmental regulation. Among them are taxation, business regulation, and environmental regulations. The denial, suspension, or revocation of various types of state licenses are also frequently litigated in the Division of Administrative Hearings.
Following the conclusion of the hearing, the administrative law judge will enter a final order. In some jurisdictions, she drafts a proposed final order for review by the director of the agency involved. The agency director may modify or reject the final order. A final order in some jurisdictions can be appealed to a state trial court. In others, the final order is reviewed by an appeals court, just as a final trial court order would be.