There is no uniformity in how administrative law judges are hired
or appointed by state agencies, nor in their required qualifications
or salary, says Rep. David B. Braddock, D-Altus.
Braddock told the Oklahoma House Administrative Rule Review
Committee Thursday that some administrative law judges are required
to be attorneys while some are not, and pay may range from an hourly
rate of $20 or so to $70,000 per year. Some are employed via
contracts, others hired directly by a state agency.
A staff analysis of administrative law judge contracts showed
contract amounts ranging from $1,500 to $35,000 for the agencies
concerned. Some individuals serve only as administrative law judges,
others are hearing examiners and still others have additional
duties. "Sometimes administrative law judges are paid by the
agency," Braddock said. "It gives a person the sense that they are
not being dealt with fairly."
In other situations, Braddock added, the administrative law judge
can be in an uncomfortable spot. "The administrative law judge could
be ruling against the person that signs his or her check."
Last session, Braddock and Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee, introduced
Senate Bill 803, which would have created an Administrative Hearings
Panel to exercise the judicial authority of state boards, agencies
and commissions. Its chief presiding officer would have been
appointed by the governor for a six-year term, with the advice and
consent of the Senate. The measure also provided for an
administrator, administrative hearing officers and temporary
administrative hearing officers. The panel would have had
jurisdiction over cases and other matters assigned to it by law or
administrative rule or referred by an administrative agency. Its
decisions would be appealable to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Senate attorney Mark Ramsey said that when last session's bill
was under consideration, research revealed that 16 states had
adopted this type of system, with another three reviewing the idea.
The measure received a "report progress" motion from the House
committee, which stalled it for the session.
On Thursday, Braddock said that Senate Bill 803 was just a
starting point for discussion, but he believes something needs to be
done to counter the perception of partiality on the part of
administrative law judges.
"We certainly don't want to create a new agency," he said.
Braddock added that oversight of the judges could be placed under
an existing agency or department. As for funding, he said he
envisions transferring the funding currently spent on administrative
law judges to the chosen agency, or the affected agencies could pay
into a pool.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Emeritus Jim Glover, D-Elgin, said that
Braddock's idea sounds more like some type of arbitrator rather than
an administrative law judge. He questioned whether such an
individual would have the agency-specific expertise required of
administrative law judges.
Braddock said that he thinks the process could be designed so
that the judges do have the necessary knowledge. In fact, he added,
if current administrative law judges are qualified, they could be
utilized under the new system.
"It's a question of impartial justice," he said.
Braddock told Rep. Forrest Claunch, R-Midwest City, he believes
that with appropriate selection criteria the judges appointed by the
independent agency could "come up to speed" even on the complex
rules and regulations of entities such as the Oklahoma Tax