The Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) can provide state and local government agencies with skilled hearing officers to conduct hearings of contested disputes or to mediate settlements. The legislature created OAH in 1975 to provide state agencies and local government with impartial adjudicators trained to consider evidence, make findings and recommend action to the decision maker. For 25 years administrative law judges at OAH have successfully conducted hearings for state agencies, cities, counties, towns, school districts and other public entities.
What Kind of Work Does OAH Do?
Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) conduct four kinds of proceedings:
Trial-like hearings for state agencies.
Rulemaking hearings for state agencies where public testimony is heard.
Hearings for local units of government on a variety of issues, upon request.
Settlement conferences and mediations.
What Services does OAH provide for Local Government?
The legislature has authorized OAH to contract with local political subdivisions such as cities, counties, school districts, towns, or other entities to provide administrative law judges to conduct trial-like (contested case) hearings and to serve as mediators to settle disputes. The ALJ presides at the hearing, hears the testimony and prepares findings of fact and a recommendation for the final decision maker, such as the City Council. When an ALJ serves as a mediator, the ALJ facilitates settlement discussions between the parties to a dispute.
What’s the Cost?
OAH bills for the services of ALJs on an hourly basis. The rate for FY 2012 is $165 per hour. Hourly charges include hearing time, writing time and travel time. Expenses such as lodging, meals and mileage are billed when the judges must travel outside the metro area. OAH staff attorneys are often involved in the preparation of recommended written orders. Staff attorney time is billed at $80 per hour for FY 2012. OAH provides detailed invoices to agencies that show what time was expended by the judge or staff attorney and at what activity.
When and Where are the Mediations Held?
Mediations are usually held at the location specified by the agency involved. Normally mediations are scheduled for locations convenient for the parties and witnesses. Common mediation facilities include conference rooms, jury rooms, city council chambers, county commissioner boardrooms, or courtrooms. Mediation rooms are also available at OAH if a neutral location is desirable. The agency normally also specifies the date of the mediation and OAH finds an ALJ available for that date.
Why Do Local Government Agencies Hire OAH?
Reasons expressed to OAH for referring cases include:
lack of time on the part of the local decision maker to hear a case,
the need for a professional decision making process that will hold up upon court review,
the need for impartiality in politically sensitive cases, and
cost effectiveness when compared to hiring an attorney to serve as a hearing officer.
ALJs are experienced in limiting mediations to relevant matters, and in conducting the mediation efficiently and cost effectively. The ALJ will usually have expertise in the subject matter of the mediation.
What is the Advantage of Mediation to Settle a Dispute?
Mediation is a process where the parties meet with an impartial mediator who will help them reach an agreement to resolve the dispute that is acceptable to both parties. Mediation is less adversarial, may help the parties preserve a relationship and may save time. All ALJs have received training as mediators and several have extensive experience in the process.
How Can I Request Mediation Services?
Contact the OAH Docket Coordinator, Diane Nordstrom, at 651-361-7906. The Docket Coordinator will ask you some questions about your mediation such as a proposed date and location, the issues in the case, the attorneys involved, the expected length of the hearing, and whether media attention is anticipated. The Docket Coordinator will then check the OAH calendar and promptly assign an ALJ to your case. The Docket Coordinator will also send you a simple contract covering the services to be provided.
How Can I Find out More about OAH or the Mediation Process?
This website contains a description of the office, biographies of the ALJs, OAH rules, and access to past decisions of OAH. You can also direct questions to the Docket Coordinator or contact Deputy Chief Judge Timothy O'Malley at 651-361-7856 about mediation services.