The Guide to Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing

The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) prepared this guide to explain the process for administrative hearings in New Jersey. The information in this guide is general and covers typical situations; it does not cover all possible situations that may occur during a case. The information provided may not be appropriate for your situation. It is not legal advice. If you have legal questions, it may be advisable to contact a lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, you may contact the Lawyers’ Referral Service of your County Bar Association or of the State Bar Association (New Jersey Bar Association Lawyer Referral Services). If you cannot afford an attorney, you may contact the Legal Services Program in your county to see if you are eligible for free legal services. (Information on Legal Services of New Jersey can be found at http://lsnjlaw.org/)

 

The rules that control the hearing, the Uniform Administrative Procedure Rules, are in Title 1, Chapter 1, of the New Jersey Administrative Code. (The legal citation is N.J.A.C. 1:1-1.1 et seq.)

  • An Overview of the Process at the Office of Administrative Law

    The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) is an independent State agency that employs administrative law judges (ALJs) to provide an independent and neutral hearing. Requests for hearings are not made directly to the OAL. Hearing requests must be filed with the appropriate State agency, which is usually the agency that sent you a notice of a proposed action or the agency specified on a form that you received. That agency then sends the case to OAL for the hearing.

    An ALJ hears the case and writes the initial decision. The initial decision is sent back to the agency that sent the case here. The head of that agency reviews the initial decision and has the right to adopt, reject, or modify what the ALJ decided. The agency head’s decision is the final decision.

    In a few types of cases, for example, special education cases, the ALJ’s decision is final; there is no review by any agency head.

    Appeal of a final decision is available in the judicial branch. (See “Appeals from Final Decisions” below)

  • What OAL Staff May and May Not Do

    We will be happy to help you if we can. However, we are allowed to help you only in certain ways. This is a list of some things the staff CAN and CANNOT do for you. Please read it carefully before asking the staff for help.

    • WE CAN explain and answer questions about how the OAL works.

    • WE CAN give you some information from your case file.

    • WE CAN usually answer questions about court deadlines.

    • WE CANNOT give you legal advice. Only your lawyer can give you legal advice.

    • WE CANNOT tell you how to proceed.

    • WE CANNOT give you an opinion about what will happen.

    • WE CANNOT recommend a lawyer.

    • WE CANNOT talk to the ALJ for you about your case.

    • WE CANNOT let you talk to the ALJ outside of court.

    • WE CANNOT change an order issued by the ALJ.

  • Filing of a Case at the OAL

    When a case is sent to the OAL for a hearing, a Notice of Filing or a Notice of Filing and Hearing is sent to the parties. This Notice contains a contact telephone number at the OAL, a brief explanation of the basic issues to be decided at the hearing, and a docket number (OAL DKT. NO.) that is used to identify the case (found at the top left side of the Notice of Filing). You will be asked for the docket number if you contact the OAL with a question about your case, so you should always have it available when you call.


  • Change of Information

    If there is any change in your address or phone number before the hearing, please call the OAL immediately and inform us of the change. This will ensure that you receive copies of all notices and other information concerning your case.

  • Representation (N.J.A.C. 1:1-5.4)

    You may be represented by an attorney or you may present the case yourself. (Someone who chooses to represent himself or herself in a hearing is often referred to as pro se, which is a Latin term that means for self.) In some cases a non-lawyer may assist you at the hearing if permitted by the ALJ. Some examples of cases where a non-lawyer can appear at the hearing are: a paralegal or assistant employed by legal services; a principal of a close corporation; a union representative in a civil service case; and an individual who is permitted by federal law to appear in a special education case. The list of cases where a non-lawyer can appear can be found at N.J.A.C. 1:1-5.4.

    The non-lawyer must complete a Notice of Appearance/Application form (available on the OAL website under the heading “Representation”) and return it to the OAL at least ten days before the hearing. In cases from the Division of Family Development, the Division of Medical Assistance, and the Division of Youth and Family Services, the non-lawyer does not have to complete a form and he or she can ask to be allowed to appear on the day of the hearing

  • Interpreter

    If you cannot speak English, you must bring someone who can interpret for you. You may bring a friend, acquaintance, or family member as long as that person can speak both English and your language fluently. The OAL does not provide interpretation, except in the case of hearing-impaired parties. If you are hearing impaired and require an interpreter, please contact the OAL Clerk as far in advance of the hearing as possible.


  • Prehearing Conference (N.J.A.C. 1:1-13.1 through -13.2)

    In some cases, a prehearing conference may be scheduled. At a prehearing conference, the parties or their representatives and the ALJ will discuss the issues, the procedures that will be used at the hearing, and the possibility of settling the case. The ALJ may also discuss any problems concerning discovery (see “Discovery” below), any motions the parties plan to file (see “Motions” below), and whether there will be expert testimony, and the ALJ will set hearing dates. You should have your calendar available to assist you in the process of scheduling the hearing.

    The prehearing conference is usually conducted by telephone conference call. The Notice of Prehearing Conference will tell you the time, date, and place of the prehearing conference (if it is an in-person conference), the name of the ALJ who will conduct the conference, whether it will be in-person or by telephone, and what will be discussed. It is important to keep the OAL informed of any change in your address or telephone number while your case is here so that we can contact you.

  • Discovery (N.J.A.C. 1:1-10.1 through -10.6)

    Discovery is a process that allows each party to learn about the other side’s case. The purpose of discovery is to make sure that there are no surprises at the hearing, so the result will be based on the merits of the case. During discovery, each side learns the evidence that will be used at trial to support either side’s case. Discovery should begin immediately. Discovery in OAL hearings is explained in N.J.A.C. 1:1-10.1 through -10.6.

    Through discovery, you can ask the opposing party to respond to written questions (called interrogatories) or to provide copies of documents. The written questions or the request for copies of documents must be sent to the other party or, if the other party is represented, to the representative. You should begin discovery as soon as possible. DO NOT send copies of discovery requests or of responses to discovery requests to the OAL or the ALJ unless the ALJ assigned to your case specifically requests them.

    If you receive a request for discovery, you must provide the information within fifteen days of receiving the request. If you believe that the request is unfair, you must object to the request by notifying the ALJ and the other party within ten days of receiving the request.

    If you do not receive a response to your discovery request, you must notify the ALJ and other parties by telephone conference call within ten days of the date that you should have gotten the response. If you receive an inadequate response to your discovery request, you must notify the ALJ and other parties by telephone conference call within ten days of receiving the response.

    If you do not request a conference call within these time limits, you may forfeit your right to obtain information or to object to a discovery request.

    All discovery must be completed ten days before the first hearing date.

  • Subpoenas (N.J.A.C. 1:1-11 through -11.5)

    A subpoena is a legal document that orders a person to appear at the hearing and to give testimony. If you want a person to testify and he or she will not attend voluntarily, you must serve a subpoena on that individual.

    The Subpoena form [doc 160kb] and instructions may be found at the OAL website under the heading “Hearings.” Either deliver the subpoena to the witness in person or by certified mail, return receipt requested. In either case, record the delivery so that there is proof that the subpoena was received by the person.

    The subpoena should be delivered as far in advance of the hearing as possible so that the witness has time to get ready for the hearing. You must include a witness fee: $2.00 a day if the witness lives in the county where the hearing will be held, and an additional $2.00 for every thirty miles the witness must travel if the witness lives in another county.

    If you need the testimony of a person who is an expert, such as a doctor, you usually must pay the doctor an additional fee, as required by the expert.

    If you need the witness to bring documents, you should list the documents on the subpoena form in the appropriate section.

    A subpoenaed person who feels that his or her presence at the hearing is unnecessarily or unfairly required can object to the ALJ with notice to the parties. The ALJ will decide whether that person must obey the subpoena. Other questions, such as whether the subpoenaed person has to be there exactly at the time specified, are directed to the person who issued the subpoena.

  • Motions (N.J.A.C. 1:1-12.1 through -12.7)

    The ALJ may be asked to decide issues both before and during the hearing. For example, the ALJ may be asked to change the hearing date, to decide whether a person must obey a subpoena, or to sustain an objection to a discovery request. The technical term for these requests is a “motion.”

    Before the hearing, a motion should be made in writing to an ALJ with a copy to the other parties or, if the other parties are represented, to the representatives. A motion does not have to be in any special form; a letter is sufficient. Motions during the course of the hearing are usually made orally. More information about motions can be found in N.J.A.C. 1:1-12.1 through -12.7.

  • Notice of Hearing

    The Notice of Hearing states the time, date, and place for the hearing, and the name of the ALJ who will hear the case. It is usually sent several weeks before the hearing, unless there are emergency circumstances.

  • Location of Hearing

    The OAL has hearing rooms in Newark, Trenton, and Atlantic City. We will attempt to schedule your hearing in a convenient location. The Notice of Hearing will tell you where the hearing will be held. Directions to the three offices of the OAL are available on the OAL website.

  • Adjournments (N.J.A.C. 1:1-9.6)

    If you cannot attend the hearing or participate in the prehearing conference on the scheduled date, you must request an adjournment (a new date for the hearing or conference) immediately. N.J.A.C. 1:1-9.6 explains the adjournment process.

    Your request for an adjournment will only be granted if there is a very good reason for it. If you have already appeared before an ALJ (that is, if there has been a prehearing conference, telephone conference, or the hearing has begun), make the adjournment request directly to the ALJ. If you have not yet appeared before an ALJ, contact the OAL at the phone number listed on the Notice to request an adjournment. Before you call the OAL to request an adjournment, you must contact the other party or parties to the case or, if the other party is represented, the party’s representative, to see if they agree to an adjournment and agree to possible alternate dates.

    When you call the OAL, you will be asked the reason for the adjournment request, whether the other parties have been contacted, and whether they agree to the adjournment. If the request is granted, a new date will be set for the conference or hearing. If there is a dispute regarding a request for adjournment, it may be necessary for the ALJ to hold a telephone conference with all parties to resolve the request.

  • Hearing Preparation

    In preparing for a hearing, you should:

    • Make a list of all information that you want to present.

    • Bring the original and two copies of all documents to the hearing so that one can be given to the other party and one to the ALJ.

    • Persons who have firsthand knowledge of the case should be asked to attend the hearing to testify or you should subpoena such persons. (See subpoenas above.) Please note: an expert witness generally receives a fee.

  • On the Hearing Day

    • Arrive on time.

    • When entering the hearing room, remove your hat and turn off all cell phones and pagers.

    • Bring your hearing notice with you; it contains your case information.

    • Do not bring any food or beverages into the hearing room.

    • You should stop talking and you should stand when the ALJ enters the hearing room.

    • When addressing the ALJ, use appropriate language. Speak directly to the ALJ and not to the other party. Address the ALJ as “Your Honor”.

    • You should not interrupt the opposing party or the ALJ while he or she is speaking. After the other party has finished speaking, you or your lawyer may request an opportunity from the ALJ to respond. An opportunity to respond is left to the ALJ’s discretion.

  • The Hearing

    In each case, the ALJ decides who will present evidence first and how the hearing will proceed. This decision is based on which party is requesting the action, on which party has the most evidence, and on what would be the most practical way to develop the issues.

    In some cases, the ALJ will see if settlement is possible before the hearing begins. This discussion will usually take place off the record; that is, it is not recorded. If settlement cannot be reached, the hearing will continue.

    Before the case begins, the ALJ will explain the procedures to be followed. If you are confused about the procedure, let the ALJ know, and ask questions.

    Each party will be given the chance to present witnesses, documents, and other evidence and to question the other party’s witnesses (cross-examine). All witnesses who testify will be placed under oath or, if the person cannot take an oath for religious reasons, will affirm that the testimony will be the truth. All relevant evidence may be presented, including hearsay (a statement repeated by a witness but originally made by another person). The ALJ may limit presentation of evidence if it is repetitive, overly time-consuming, abusive, too prejudicial, or irrelevant.

    The party with the burden of proof must prove its case. Usually this is the petitioner, complainant, or appellant, but you should find out from the ALJ which party has the burden of proof in your case. Arrange to have any witnesses and records you need to prove your case at the hearing. Prepare your questions in advance.

    Bring to court records of any transactions that may help you prove your case. Remember that you need two copies of each document. Such records may include:

    1. Canceled checks, money orders, sales receipts

    2. Bills, contracts, estimates, leases

    3. Letters

    4. Photographs

    5. Other documents proving your claim


    A record will be made of the hearing, so everyone should speak in a loud, clear voice.

    The ALJ is an independent, impartial person with no personal stake in the outcome of the case. The ALJ will attempt to find the facts of the case and to understand and fairly evaluate the position of each party. In doing so, the ALJ may ask questions of any participant or witness in the hearing.

  • Withdrawal of Hearing Request (N.J.A.C. 1:1-19.2)

    If you requested the hearing and you do not want to proceed with the hearing, you must notify either the ALJ or the OAL Clerk. When a withdrawal is received, the case is closed and will be returned to the agency. If you withdraw your hearing request, the agency may proceed with the proposed action.

    Once a case is withdrawn and returned to the agency, the OAL no longer has jurisdiction to deal with any issues concerning the case.

  • Settlement (N.J.A.C. 1:1-19.1)

    If a case settles before the hearing begins, the ALJ will ask the parties to write out the terms of the agreement and to sign the settlement. If this cannot be done on the hearing date, the ALJ will set a date by which the settlement must be prepared, signed, and sent to the ALJ.

    The ALJ may ask the parties to place the settlement “on the record,” which means that the parties will explain the agreement and state that they understand and voluntarily agree to it.

    Once the terms are in writing and signed by the parties, the case will be returned to the agency. If the agency already agreed to the settlement, the case is over. If not, the agency head has forty-five days to review the settlement, as in any other case. Once a case is settled and returned to the agency, the OAL no longer has jurisdiction to deal with any issues concerning the case.

  • Failure to Appear (N.J.A.C. 1:1-14.4)

    If you do not appear at the hearing, you must call the ALJ and speak with his or her secretary within one day of the hearing date to explain why you did not appear. The secretary will instruct you to fax a letter explaining the reason for non-appearance; you must fax a copy of the letter to your adversary as well. It is important that you complete this process within one business day of your scheduled hearing date. If you do not call and submit the explanation within that time, the case will be sent back to the agency and the agency may proceed with any proposed action.

    If there is an emergency on the hearing date and you will be late for the hearing, call the ALJ or the Clerk’s phone number on the notice to explain the problem.

  • Post-Hearing Submissions (N.J.A.C. 1:1-14.7)

    The ALJ may ask for additional documents to be submitted after the hearing, and may also ask for a written argument, or brief, after the hearing. This written argument can be in the form of a letter and states the factual and legal reasons that support your position on the case.

  • Decision of ALJ (N.J.A.C. 1:1-18.1 through -18.3)

    If the ALJ does not ask for additional documents or for briefs, the case ends on the last day of the hearing. If the ALJ asks for additional documents or briefs, a date will be set by which those documents must be received. The case will end on that date. The ALJ will not consider documents received after this date. A party cannot supply additional information or documents, either to the ALJ or the agency head, once the case ends.

    The decision usually is due within forty-five days from the date the case ended. In some cases the decision is due in less than forty-five days; if so, the ALJ will state the due date at the end of the hearing.

  • Transcript Request (N.J.A.C. 1:1-14.11)

    If you want a transcript of the hearing, you must contact one of the authorized court transcription service vendors to request a transcript. A deposit of $300.00 per hearing day is required. A form [pdf 10kb] for requesting transcripts, which includes the list of vendors, can be found on this website under “Hearings”; it also can be found in the hearing room. You must also notify all parties that you requested the transcript, and send a copy of the request to: OAL Transcript Requests. When the transcript is ready, you will be billed for any additional cost of preparation or reimbursed if there was an overpayment.

    You also may get a copy of the recording of any hearing that was recorded by the OAL by sending a blank CD-R to “Transcripts” at the OAL. You must include a stamped, self-addressed envelope. The hearing record will be copied at no charge and sent to you. 

  • Filing Exceptions to the Initial Decision (N.J.A.C. 1:1-18.4)

    If you disagree with any of the findings or conclusions in the initial decision, you may file exceptions with the agency head. Usually exceptions must be filed within thirteen days from the date the initial decision was mailed, but you should check the end of the initial decision because in some cases they must be filed sooner. The exceptions may be in a letter and should explain the particular portions of the initial decision with which you disagree and the specific reasons for the disagreement. Information that was not presented during the hearing cannot be included in the exceptions. A copy of the exceptions must be sent to the other parties and the ALJ.

    If you cannot meet the thirteen-day deadline because you need to order a transcript, you must write to the agency head and ask for an extension. (See N.J.A.C. 1:1-18.8(d) and (e).

    You may reply to exceptions received from the other party by writing to the agency head and sending a copy to the ALJ and all of the other parties. You may only reply to issues raised in the exceptions.

  • Final Decision (N.J.A.C. 1:1-18.6)

    The agency head can adopt, modify or reject the initial decision within forty-five days of receiving it. If the agency head does not take any action within the forty-five-day period, the initial decision automatically becomes the final decision. If the final decision rejects or modifies the initial decision, it must specify the reasons for the change in detail. The final decision must also identify the evidence that justifies the rejection or modification.

    In special education cases, the ALJ’s decision is the final administrative decision

  • Extensions of Time for Initial Decision, Exceptions, Final Decision (N.J.A.C. 1:1-18.8 )

    The time for issuing an initial or a final decision can be extended for forty-five days if the Director of the OAL and the head of the transmitting agency both sign an order agreeing to the extension. Parties will receive a copy of the order.

    The head of the agency that will issue the final decision can grant an extension of the time for filing exceptions if there is good cause for the extension.

  • Appeals from Final Decisions

    Any party may appeal a final decision to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. The Notice of Appeal must be filed within forty-five days of the date of the final decision. The rules and procedures for filing the appeal are found in the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey . You can get information on filing an appeal from: Appeals Information, Superior Court of New Jersey, Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex, PO Box 006, Trenton, New Jersey 08625, or on the New Jersey Judiciary website, www.judiciary.state.nj.us.

    The ALJ’s decision in a special education case is final. A party may appeal the decision of the ALJ either to the Superior Court of New Jersey, pursuant to the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey, or to the District Court for the District of New Jersey pursuant to 20 U.S.C.A. § 1415(e)(2).

(The hyperlinks in the preceding text are posted with the permission of LexisNexis.)