The "Rules of Conduct for Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers of the City of New York" are the basic standards that govern all of the City's administrative law judges, hearing officers, hearing examiners and anyone else who performs a similar function. Among the tribunals covered by the Rules are those within the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Finance (which handles parking violations), the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Environmental Control Board, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH), the Police Department, the Tax Appeals Tribunal and the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
In effect since February 13, 2007, the Rules were developed in response to an amendment of the City Charter passed by voters in November 2005. That amendment required the City to adopt a code of ethics for its administrative judiciary. The Rules are based on the code of conduct that applies to elected and appointed judges throughout the State. The Rules supplement the City's Conflicts of Interest Law, which continues to apply to administrative law judges and hearing officers as it does to all City employees. The Rules provide a uniform standard of conduct in addition to the particular rules that have been put in place by the various tribunals.
The Rules recognize that our City depends on honorable and impartial tribunals to do justice. For many New Yorkers, an appearance before an administrative law judge or hearing officer is the most significant form of personal exposure to government in operation. It is therefore critical that judges and officers avoid impropriety, that they conduct hearings fairly, that they maintain strict impartiality and that they limit their activities outside office.
Administrative law judges and hearing officers must act impartially and avoid conduct that might create an appearance of impropriety. They must not allow personal, social or political ties to influence their decisions, use their office to promote private interests or give the impression they are biased against particular groups or individuals. To help ensure that those standards are met, judges and officers are not allowed to belong to organizations whose membership policies are discriminatory.
An administrative law judge or hearing officer is responsible for conducting a hearing that is fair and orderly. Anyone who appears before a tribunal should be treated respectfully, and parties must be given an opportunity to present their cases effectively. A judge or officer must ensure that discriminatory language or attitudes do not taint proceedings. A judge or officer may not decide a matter based on a communication made by one party and not shared with the other. He or she must approach each case with an open mind, may not make a commitment to decide a case in favor of one party or the other and may not comment publicly on a pending matter. If the parties reveal information not generally available to the public, the judge or officer may not use that information for purposes unrelated to deciding the case.
An administrative law judge or hearing officer should take appropriate steps to make sure a party who is not being represented by a lawyer or by someone else familiar with the rules of administrative hearings is nonetheless able to present his or her side of the matter. For example, the judge or officer might interpret that party's papers liberally, discuss what is going to happen at the hearing, explain the types of evidence allowed, take into account language barriers, conduct some questioning of witnesses, modify the order of the hearing, avoid using legal terms unnecessarily, spell out the basis for a ruling or refer the party to helpful resources.
An administrative law judge or hearing officer may not sit on a case if he or she cannot be impartial or if the judge's or officer's participation would create the appearance of partiality. A judge or officer is disqualified from sitting on a matter if, among other reasons, he or she is personally involved in or affected by the case or handled it as an attorney or if he or she has a family member or other relative who is involved in or affected by the case or handled it as an attorney. Under some circumstances, however, the parties may jointly agree to present a case before a judge or officer who would otherwise be disqualified.
All administrative law judges and hearing officers - including those who work only part-time for the City - must limit their outside activities to minimize the likelihood of disqualification and avoid undermining the dignity of their office. A judge or officer is not prohibited from working with a civic or charitable organization or engaging in business activities such as participating in a law firm. But he or she must not do anything that might make it seem that the prestige of his or her office is being used to help a private organization or business. A judge or officer must also refrain from certain acts that might create partiality, such as involvement in organizations or businesses that regularly appear before him or her. A judge or officer may accept only those gifts or favors that would not suggest any impropriety or create partiality. A judge or officer who spends most of his or her time serving on one or more City tribunals may not appear as an attorney or representative of a party before any City tribunal, and no judge or officer may appear before the same tribunal he or she serves or work for a law firm that regularly appears before that tribunal. Judges and officers may not be leaders of political parties and may not raise money for them.
Violation of the Rules may be misconduct and may subject an administrative law judge or hearing officer to discipline. A complaint of a violation may be made to the Administrative Justice Coordinator or the Chief Administrative Law Judge of OATH, who may refer the matter to the head of the tribunal on which the judge or officer serves, the Conflicts of Interest Board or the Department of Investigation.