Proceedings magazine is a communication tool for the Coast Guard's Marine Safety & Security Council. Each quarterly magazine focuses on a specific theme of interest to the marine industry.
Issue link: http://uscgproceedings.epubxp.com/i/617100
38 Proceedings Winter 2015–2016 www.uscg.mil/proceedings ALJs have decisional independence which enables them to review the evidence, fnd facts, and issue decisions free from any pressures the parties or offcials within the agency might apply. 3 To help ensure decisional independence, regu- lations prohibit agencies, including the Coast Guard, from controlling judges' salaries, conducting performance evalu- ations on them, or providing monetary/honorary awards to judges. 4 ALJs have decisional independence which enables t hem to review evidence, find facts, and issue deci- sions free from pressure from the parties or agency officials. Because suspension and revocation proceedings are formal, judges expect an appropriate level of preparedness and pro- fessionalism throughout the process, similar to what a judge expects of professional counsel in state or federal court. The Players and the Process Administrative Law Judges The Coast Guard is one of approximately 30 federal agencies administering laws that require civil administrative adju- dication, and there are approximately 1,600 administrative law judges in the federal government. The Coast Guard has six judges, plus one chief judge. Experienced attorneys who wish to become a federal administrative law judge must undergo the Offce of Personnel Management (OPM)'s com- petitive screening and qualifcation process, which involves documenting several years of experience in trials and hear- ings, securing letters of recommendation, passing a written examination, and going through structured interviews. Upon successfully completing the screening and qualifca- tion process, judicial candidates are placed on a register for ultimate appointment as administrative law judges. ALJs To promote safety at sea, Congress granted the Coast Guard authority to suspend or revoke merchant mariner creden- tials for acts of incompetence, misconduct, negligence, vio- lations of law or regulation, or using dangerous drugs. The Coast Guard initiates nearly 600 suspension and revocation (S&R) cases each year, most of which are settled. Chapter 77 of Title 46 U.S. Code contains the legal authority for these proceedings, which requires that administrative law judges (ALJs) adjudicate them. These S&R proceedings are formal administrative actions that are similar to civil trials in state or federal court, but without a jury and with streamlined discovery and procedural rules to ensure a just, speedy, and inexpensive determination. 1 The suspension and revocation process consists of formal proceedings prescribed within a framework of legally binding regulations and agency rulings. The Suspension and Revocation National Center of Expertise (S&R NCOE) ensures Coast Guard representatives understand S&R sub- ject matter and possess appropriate advocacy skills. The Proceedings Coast Guard investigating offcers (IOs) initiate S&R pro- ceedings by serving a complaint on the mariner. ALJs rule on motions, hold pre-hearing conferences, issue subpoenas, and preside at hearings that involve written and oral testi- mony with the right of cross-examination. They also review briefs and issue written decisions. The parties may appeal the judge's decision to the Commandant and the Comman- dant's decision to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). NTSB's decision may be appealed to the appropriate Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Coast Guard always bears the burden of proving the complaint allegations by the preponderance of the evidence, and the administrative law judge must determine if the Coast Guard has met its burden. 2 Raising the Bar How the S&R NCOE improves the S&R process. by hon. WaLteR BRuDzinsKi Chief Administrative Law Judge U.S. Coast Guard Suspension and Revocation National Center of Expertise