Monday, February 10, 2014

One Of My Admin Appellate Hearings In Detroit Slips Into The Twilight Zone

So a couple weeks ago I attended an administrative agency hearing held in Detroit.

My client was appealing a decision by an administrative agency, and the other side had the burden of proof in the matter - in other words, they had to prove the basis for the decision.

This should be a pretty straight-forward matter. Quite simply, my client's acts just don't arise legally to the level where the other side could even possibly win.

So I'm all prepared and ready to go with my opening statement, line of questions for my client and potential opposing witnesses etc.

The other side doesn't even show up for the hearing.

In short, they're not there, they have the burden, this is a slam dunk - we win, victory is mine, client does a happy dance, etc.

Not so fast.

The administrative law judge ushers us into the room, starts reading some preliminaries, notes the other side isn't present, and then starts tearing into my client.

WTF? Not so much as a by-your-leave, not letting me even go on record or make an opening statement. In my opening, I had planned to lay out explicitly the cases that state the other side has the burden of proof and how based on the evidence they can't achieve it even if they were present, and now that they're not here it should be real simple.

Instead of giving me an opening he really gets going. In fact it seems right off the bat he's acting as if he's the other side - very aggressive and hostile questioning of the client, discounting all the basis we raised for the appeal, misconstruing the record in favor of the other side and then questioning her based on his misconstrual of facts, and not even letting me get a much of word in edgewise.

Did I just walk into a Twilight Zone episode or something?

Then it gets even better, he starts pontificating at length including going into a passionate statement that while some counselors think that they can reform gay people into becoming straight or straight people into gays, that just can't happen.

Double WTF?!?

Just so you know, the case has nothing to do with counseling, or gay people, or weird theories in any way, shape or form, and is so unrelated substance wise to what he just said that we have absolutely no clue what he's going on about.

I then try to get some statements and questions to my client in to preserve the record on appeal. I can see this slam dunk case going pear shaped and coming up as a feature in the show "Judges Gone Wild".

He keeps shutting me down as I keep trying to get some questions and answers on the record to preserve our position. Meanwhile, I'm praying the recorder in the room is actually working and saving all his statements for our appeal of his decision.

Amazingly, after over an hour of his diatribes, he then says, "The other party isn't even here and they have the burden of proof, why are we even doing this?"

Before I can even get out "I don't know judge, why? Considering I could have pointed that out if you let me speak for a complete second without cutting me off", he gruffly states he'll have a written opinion out shortly, and don't even ask when it will be ready.

Ok then.

My client and I walk out of the room rather dumbfounded. I state that really, that's not how these hearings usually occur. We're both quite concerned the judge is going to ignore both the law and the facts and I let her know we've got a solid appeal to a real judge if he goes as far sideways as he seems to be going.

I just received the written decision today. His decision quotes the two cases I was going to cite in my opening, briefly mentions the fractions of statements and questions to my client I managed to get into the record as favorable to our position, and it states that as the other side wasn't there, my client's testimony is uncontested and we won.

Yay me. That was one surreal experience to get to the right result.


OldAFSarge said...

Talk about "taking the long way". I wonder for what political constituency this judge was pontificating? On the record I might add and I'm guessing THAT was intentional. Lord spare us from an activist judiciary!

Expatriate Owl said...

ALJs (and, for that matter, many judges on benches in courts) do tend to relish their positions of wielding power over others (can you say "bullying"?), but they do not like being overruled.

I wasn't there in your Twilight Zone, but it could be that, after launching into his tirade, your ALJ realized that you just might have the gumption to appeal, and did not like the risk of being reversed.

Definitely one for Rod Serling.

ProudHillbilly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ProudHillbilly said...

Kind gives credence to that whole "70 million Americans on mind altering drugs" report doesn't it?

Keads said...

Uh, WTF indeed!

Aaron said...

OldAFSarge - Yep, that it was. I wonder if he confused our case with the prior case, was having a bad day, or got upon the wrong side of the bench that morning, or wanted to kill an hour messing with an attorney.

Expat Owl - Yes indeed, he was definitely overbearing and trying to throw his weight around and in fact went beyond his proper area, but he did it in the weirdest way imaginable.

I was halfway debating if saying "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" would have improved things, as it would have made as much sense as what he was saying, but I decided to hold my temper.

PH - Yep, I wonder what he had in his coffee that morning, cause he sure wasn't in the same ball park where we were that morning.

Keads: Yep, it was quite the puzzling experience.