BY James A. Kozachek
Pending legislation (A2722) is designed to finally put a stop to common but unfair practices in certain courts in New Jersey.
Most people are familiar with the Superior Court of New Jersey, where civil and criminal matters are regularly heard. But the state also has the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) where people and businesses appear before Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) to present their cases and hope for a fair hearing and a just decision.
For far too long, the state agencies have had too much power over the OAL, giving the state an unfair advantage over the people and businesses fighting with those agencies. A2722 puts us all on more even ground.
ALJs generally hear disputes between citizens and the various state agencies, including the state Department of Community Affairs and state Department of Environmental Protection. ALJs dispense justice to citizens charged with violating one or more of the thousands of New Jersey regulations and the assessed corresponding fines and penalties.
ALJs hear testimony, examine documents and hear arguments of counsel and then make a decision. Unfortunately, a brilliant, expensive and successful defense may be a waste because the ALJ’s decision is not binding.
The head of the state agency that levied the fine has the right to adopt, reject or modify the court’s decision. That’s grossly unfair.
How can you fight a fair legal battle against a state agency that ultimately can declare itself the victor – regardless of the factual and legal conclusions reached by the ALJ?
I ask the state Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie to support A2722 to ensure government plays by the rules. Residents and businesses are entitled to defend themselves before an independent decision-maker. To preserve the constitutional rights of parties embroiled in disputes before the OAL, this proposed law must be adopted.
James A. Kozachek is a litigation partner at Bisgaier Hoff, LLC.