by Gene Doyle, LMSW
In the January 30, 1991 edition of the New York State Register, the New York State Department of Social Services (NYSDSS) announced the developed of its Administrative Adjudication Plan in accordance with Governor Mario M. Cuomo's Executive Order No. 131. See 9 NYCRR § 4.131.
This plan continues to govern administrative adjudicatory proceedings (such as Fair Hearings) of NYSDSS's successor agencies, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), which together comprise the New York State Department of Family Assistance (NYSDFA).
In its statement of "General Principles," this Administrative Adjudication Plan declared, at p. 1, that:
"The Department strictly enforces the prohibition against hearing officers' communicating about the merits of pending administrative hearings except upon notice and opportunity for all parties to participate. However, a hearing officer may consult on questions of law with supervisors, other hearing officers or Department attorneys who have not been engaged in the investigation or prosecution of the matters giving rise to the administrative hearing under consideration or any factually related administrative hearing. A hearing officer may also consult with supervisors, other hearing officers, support staff or stenographic reporters on ministerial matters such as the scheduling or location of a hearing.
"The Department does not consider whether a hearing officer's rulings, decisions or other actions favor any social services district, the Department or the State in establishing the hearing officer's salary, promotion, benefits, working conditions or employment opportunities. Nor does the Department establish quotas or similar expectations on this basis. The work of hearing officers is only evaluated on the following general areas of performance: competence, objectivity, fairness, productivity, diligence and temperament.
"The Department does not order or otherwise direct hearing officers to make any findings of fact, reach any conclusions of law, or make or recommend any specific dispositions of a charge, allegations, questions or issues, except by remand, reversal, or other decision on the record of the proceeding. However, supervisors may give legal advice or guidance to hearing officers when it is appropriate to assure that decisions meet the Department's quality standards and are consistent and legally sound. If a decision includes findings of fact or conclusions of law that conflict with the findings of fact, conclusions of law or recommended decision of the hearing officer, the Commissioner or his designee sets forth in writing the reasons why the conflicting decision was reached."
Under the headings, "Existing System and Required Changes," the Administrative Adjudication Plan announced, at pp. 4 and 8, that
"The only change required by the Executive Order is that in those rare when the Commissioner or his designee issues a decision that includes findings of fact or conclusions of law that conflict with the hearing officer's findings of fact, conclusions of law or recommended decision, the Commissioner or his designee will now set forth in writing the reasons why the conflicting decision was reached."
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