Bill To Strengthen Role Of Administrative Law Judges Advances

May 3, 2013 | No Comments
Posted by Steven M. Dalton

Characterization of the adjudicatory hearing process in the context of challenging agency decisions, including decisions of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, as a “kangaroo court” is certainly cynical, and may be unwarranted, but it is not an uncommon response when individuals whose rights are affected learn that the decision of an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) is not a final, binding decision, but may be overturned by the head of the agency that issued the initial negative decision.  Affected individuals are often dissuaded from pursuing their rights to challenge administrative decisions through a hearing process after learning of the seemingly Pyrrhic nature of the process: they may obtain a favorable decision from an ALJ only to have it overturned by the agency head, and be left to incur additional costs pursuing an appeal of the agency head decision in the Appellate Division.

A bill, A1521, recently advanced through the State Assembly that would strengthen the decision making authority of administrative law judges.  The bill, which passed 73-1, provides that the decision of an ALJ in contested administrative proceedings would be final upon the filing of the decision with the agency for certain agencies including the DEP and Department of Community Affairs.  The DEP Commissioner and other affected agency heads would not have, as they currently do, authority to modify the ALJ’s final decision or reject it outright.  The bill advances goals of the Christie Administration’s Red Tape Review Commission to promote common sense principles in the administrative and regulatory process.  An identical Senate bill has not yet been acted upon and is still in Committee.  However, the Assembly’s passage of the bill is a positive step toward restoring faith in the legitimacy of the administrative process.

Leave a Reply