OATH was created in 1979 by Mayor Ed Koch for the vision of bringing fundamental principles of justice, fairness and equity to New York City’s administrative justice system; including the simple idea that when someone is charged with wrongdoing by a City agency, that same agency should not be the same one to decide guilt or innocence. OATH’s practices and procedures were modeled on those of the civil courts. To insure their independence and integrity OATH’s Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have terms of office that extend beyond those of elected officials and they are subject to the same standards of judicial conduct as New York State court judges. For nearly forty years OATH ALJs in the Trials Division have conducted trials and pre-trial conferences on countless cases ranging from complicated City contract disputes and disciplinary cases to Human Rights Commission cases.
In 2015, OATH created a new Hearings Division to adjudicate summons cases that had been recently transferred to OATH from the former administrative tribunals that were housed within the enforcement agencies themselves. The intent here was to infuse that American concept of equal justice for all, through the original principle of procedural justice which OATH is built upon, into the hearing process for summonses that are issued by nearly two dozen enforcement agencies. Currently, the process is incomplete. Much remains to be done. Nearly fifty years of incompatible practices, procedures, infrastructure and basic concepts of administrative justice need to be updated. Cultures built on skewed preferences that undermine equality and basic justice fester exploitation of those who receive summonses. We have learned that those who for decades have benefitted unfairly from a skewed system are the first to cry “unfair” the loudest and push back the hardest on changes that require them to operate on an equal playing field.
The system is by no means perfect. Perfection is a never-ending moving target that we strive to reach. But to not continually strive for equal justice is morally unacceptable and socially unsustainable. The fabric of New York City has been evolving for nearly four-hundred years and remains dynamic and OATH will continue to evolve and strive to improve the administration of equality and fairness and justice in the application of the law.
-Hon. Fidel F. Del Valle