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CLE explains new developments at office of administrative trials and hearings

May 17, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Bar Association hosted a CLE that gave a rundown of the changes to the NYC Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. Pictured from left: Amber Evans, Hon. Raymond E. Kramer, Maria Marchiano, Hon. Fidel F. Del Valle and Steve Cohn. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

The New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) isn’t a household name, but the office has been consolidating power in recent years and will eventually handle nearly all summonses issued by any city agency.

To discuss the new developments in practice at OATH, the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) invited Hon. Fidel F. Del Valle, chief judge and commissioner of OATH; Chief Clerk Maria Marchiano; and Hon. Raymond E. Kramer, the executive director for the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution (CCCR), for a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar in Brooklyn Heights on Tuesday.

“Fidel Del Valle is commissioner and chief administrative law judge of the office of OATH — the office of administrative trials and hearings,” said Steve Cohn. “I know the commissioner for many years. When he took this job, he truly believed in justice, in due process, and we practicing lawyers didn’t see that all the time when we went to these tribunals and we thank you for the change that you are innovating. That’s going to help all of us as practicing lawyers.”

OATH was created in 1979 by Ed Koch. The idea was to have an impartial tribunal to regulate the enforcement and disciplinary cases for city agencies that issued summonses.

“Originally, Ed Koch envisioned that any summonses or violations of any kind will come before OATH. For political reasons that I won’t get into, most of that stayed in limbo for 30 years,” Del Valle explained.

By 2008, OATH was running on fumes and editorials in local newspapers blasted it for being a biased agency.

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg started the process of consolidating power under OATH in 2008, but it wasn’t until October 2014 when Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Del Valle as the chief judge and commissioner. Del Valle explained that de Blasio gave him two instructions: to make the summonses process fair and to let people know that it is fair.

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Del Valle called some of the summonses processes “arcane” and said that most people felt that summonses, often called “Notices of Violation” were unappealable. Even worse, he said that they often had no indication of which city agencies had issued the summonses, and worse, many people who fought back were given unrealistic court appearances.

“When an inspector from a particular agency issues 27 summonses all returnable at 8:30 in the morning all at the same day, and then you have people sitting there at 2 p.m. that are holding summonses that say 8:30 a.m. it’s not hard for them to imagine that was a deliberate attempt to discourage them from their due process rights,” Del Valle said.

Del Valle worked with First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris to create one uniform summons which would clearly indicate which agency had issued it and it would no longer be called a Notice of Violation.

The pair also set out to update the computer systems of the various city agencies so they can be in communication with each other when they need to be. This would certainly be no easy task, as some used programs designed using software from the 1950s and others used no computers at all.

The process is not entirely completed, but Del Valle explained, “The ultimate goal is that eventually any summons written in NYC, by any agency, will be done on a tablet with a printer. The tablet will talk to our system so there will be no games where people get 37 summonses to about at the same place at the same time in front of the same judge. That’s absurd that doesn’t serve anybody well.”

Officers from OATH have also been retrained. Gone are the days where tribunals blindly backed the organizations they were supposed to be independent of. The 11 administrative law judges have been consolidated in one spot at 100 Church St. in Manhattan.

OATH is also incorporating technology to conduct video conferences and implementing systems where people can respond to summonses over the phone or via the internet.

BBA’s next CLE will not be until June 13 at 3:30 p.m. when Robin Goeman, Julie Stoil Fernandez and James Cahill will lecture on Article 81 and motions for interim relief.

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