Code of Virginia

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Code of Virginia
Title 2.2. Administration of Government
Chapter 40. Administrative Process Act

Article 4. Hearing Officers.

§ 2.2-4024. Hearing officers.

A. In all formal hearings conducted in accordance with § 2.2-4020, the hearing shall be presided over by a hearing officer selected from a list prepared by the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court and maintained in the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court. Parties to informal fact-finding proceedings conducted pursuant to § 2.2-4019 may agree at the outset of the proceeding to have a hearing officer preside at the proceeding, such agreement to be revoked only by mutual consent. The Executive Secretary may promulgate rules necessary for the administration of the hearing officer system and shall have the authority to establish the number of hearing officers necessary to preside over administrative hearings in the Commonwealth.

Prior to being included on the list, all hearing officers shall meet the following minimum standards:

1. Active membership in good standing in the Virginia State Bar;

2. Active practice of law for at least five years; and

3. Completion of a course of training approved by the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court. In order to comply with the demonstrated requirements of the agency requesting a hearing officer, the Executive Secretary may require additional training before a hearing officer shall be assigned to a proceeding before that agency.

B. On request from the head of an agency, the Executive Secretary shall name a hearing officer from the list, selected on a rotation system administered by the Executive Secretary. Lists reflecting geographic preference and specialized training or knowledge shall be maintained by the Executive Secretary if an agency demonstrates the need.

C. A hearing officer appointed in accordance with this section shall be subject to disqualification as provided in § 2.2-4024.1. If the hearing officer denies a petition for disqualification pursuant to § 2.2-4024.1, the petitioning party may request reconsideration of the denial by filing a written request with the Executive Secretary along with an affidavit, prior to the taking of evidence at a hearing, stating with particularity the grounds upon which it is claimed that a fair and impartial hearing cannot be accorded, or the applicable rule of practice requiring disqualification.

The issue shall be determined not less than 10 days prior to the hearing by the Executive Secretary.

D. Any hearing officer empowered by the agency to provide a recommendation or conclusion in a case decision matter shall render that recommendation or conclusion as follows:

1. If the agency's written regulations or procedures require the hearing officer to render a recommendation or conclusion within a specified time period, the hearing officer shall render the recommendation or conclusion on or before the expiration of the specified period; and

2. In all other cases, the hearing officer shall render the recommendation or conclusion within 90 days from the date of the case decision proceeding or from a later date agreed to by the named party and the agency.

If the hearing officer does not render a decision within the time required by this subsection, then the agency or the named party to the case decision may provide written notice to the hearing officer and the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court that a decision is due. If no decision is made within 30 days from receipt by the hearing officer of the notice, then the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court shall remove the hearing officer from the hearing officer list and report the hearing officer to the Virginia State Bar for possible disciplinary action, unless good cause is shown for the delay.

E. The Executive Secretary shall remove hearing officers from the list, upon a showing of cause after written notice and an opportunity for a hearing. When there is a failure by a hearing officer to render a decision as required by subsection D, the burden shall be on the hearing officer to show good cause for the delay. Decisions to remove a hearing officer may be reviewed by a request to the Executive Secretary for reconsideration, followed by judicial review in accordance with this chapter.

F. This section shall not apply to hearings conducted by (i) any commission or board where all of the members, or a quorum, are present; (ii) the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission, the State Corporation Commission, the Virginia Employment Commission, the Department of Motor Vehicles under Title 46.2 (§ 46.2-100 et seq.), § 58.1-2409, or Chapter 27 (§ 58.1-2700 et seq.) of Title 58.1, or the Motor Vehicle Dealer Board under Chapter 15 (§ 46.2-1500 et seq.) of Title 46.2; or (iii) any panel of a health regulatory board convened pursuant to § 54.1-2400, including any panel having members of a relevant advisory board to the Board of Medicine. All employees hired after July 1, 1986, pursuant to §§ 65.2-201 and 65.2-203 by the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission to conduct hearings pursuant to its basic laws shall meet the minimum qualifications set forth in subsection A. Agency employees who are not licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth, and are presiding as hearing officers in proceedings pursuant to clause (ii) shall participate in periodic training courses.

G. Notwithstanding the exemptions of subsection A of § 2.2-4002, this article shall apply to hearing officers conducting hearings of the kind described in § 2.2-4020 for the Department of Wildlife Resources, the Virginia Housing Development Authority, the Milk Commission, and the Virginia Resources Authority pursuant to their basic laws.

1986, c. 615, § 9-6.14:14.1; 1988, c. 865; 1990, c. 219; 1991, c. 214; 1992, c. 659; 1993, c. 898; 1995, cc. 744, 776, 803, 805; 1996, cc. 189, 205, 639, 658; 2001, c. 844; 2002, cc. 448, 698; 2009, c. 806; 2012, cc. 803, 835; 2015, cc. 38, 636, 730; 2018, c. 613; 2020, c. 958.

§ 2.2-4024.1. Disqualification.

A. An individual who has served as investigator, prosecutor, or advocate at any stage in a contested case or who is subject to the authority, direction, or discretion of an individual who has served as investigator, prosecutor, or advocate at any stage in a contested case may not serve as the presiding officer or hearing officer in the same case. An agency head who has participated in a determination of probable cause or other preliminary determination in an adjudication may serve as the presiding officer in the adjudication unless a party demonstrates grounds for disqualification under subsection B.

B. A presiding officer or hearing officer is subject to disqualification for any factor that would cause a reasonable person to question the impartiality of the presiding officer or hearing officer, which may include bias, prejudice, financial interest, or ex parte communications; however, the fact that a hearing officer is employed by an agency as a hearing officer, without more, is not grounds for disqualification. The presiding officer or hearing officer, after making a reasonable inquiry, shall disclose to the parties all known facts related to grounds for disqualification that are material to the impartiality of the presiding officer or hearing officer in the proceeding. The presiding officer or hearing officer may self-disqualify and withdraw from any case for reasons listed in this subsection.

C. A party may petition for the disqualification of the presiding officer or hearing officer promptly after notice that the person will preside or, if later, promptly on discovering facts establishing a ground for disqualification. The petition must state with particularity the ground on which it is claimed that a fair and impartial hearing cannot be accorded or the applicable rules of ethics that require disqualification. The petition may be denied if the party fails to promptly request disqualification after discovering a ground for disqualification.

D. A presiding officer not appointed pursuant to the provisions of § 2.2-4024, whose disqualification is requested shall decide whether to grant the petition and state in a record the facts and reasons for the decision. The decision to deny disqualification by a hearing officer appointed pursuant to § 2.2-4024 shall be reviewable according to the procedure set forth in subsection C of § 2.2-4024. In all other circumstances, the presiding officer's or hearing officer's decision to deny disqualification is subject to judicial review in accordance with this chapter, but is not otherwise subject to interlocutory review.

2015, c. 636.

§ 2.2-4024.2. Ex parte communications.

A. Except as otherwise provided in this section, while a formal hearing conducted in accordance with § 2.2-4020 is pending, the hearing officer shall not communicate with any person concerning the hearing without notice and opportunity for all parties to participate in the communication.

B. A hearing officer may communicate about a pending formal hearing conducted in accordance with § 2.2-4020 with any person if the communication is authorized by law or concerns an uncontested procedural issue. A hearing officer may communicate with any person on ministerial matters about a pending formal hearing conducted in accordance with § 2.2-4020 if the communication does not augment, diminish, or modify the evidence in the record.

C. If a hearing officer makes or receives a communication prohibited by this section, the hearing officer shall make a part of the hearing record: (i) a copy of the communication or, if it is not written, a memorandum containing the substance of the communication; (ii) the response thereto; and (iii) the identity of the person who made the communication.

D. If a communication prohibited by this section is made, the hearing officer shall notify all parties of the prohibited communication and permit the parties to respond not later than 15 days after the notice is given. For good cause, the hearing officer may permit additional evidence in response to the prohibited communication.

E. If necessary to eliminate any prejudicial effect of a communication made that is prohibited by this section, a hearing officer may (i) be disqualified under § 2.2-4024.1; (ii) seal the parts of the record pertaining to the communication by protective order; or (iii) grant other appropriate relief, including an adverse ruling on the merits of the case.

2016, c. 478.