Administrative Law Judges
Code of Conduct for Administrative Law Judges
The Ethics Commission administers a Code of Conduct for Administrative Law Judges serving in the executive branch of state government. The Code, which is set forth Legislative Rules 158 C.S.R. 13 (2006), was created to comply with W. Va. Code 6B-2-5a. Procedures for processing complaints against ALJs are set forth in 158 C.S.R. 5 (2005).
To view the ALJ Code of Conduct, click here.
To view the Procedural Rule regarding ALJ Complaints, click here.
The Code of Conduct defines an "administrative law judge" as "any public employee, public officer or contractor functioning as a hearing officer, referee, trial examiner or other position in state government to whom the authority to conduct an administrative adjudication has been delegated by an agency or by statute, and who exercises independent and impartial judgment in conducting hearings and in issuing recommended decisions or reports containing findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with applicable statutes or rules …."
Standards of judicial conduct
The Code of Conduct generally provides the following:
An ALJ must:
» Uphold the integrity of the law
» Be independent and impartial
» Not be compensated based on outcome
» Avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety
» Not belong to an organization that practices invidious discrimination
» Maintain order in proceedings
» Avoid ex parte communications
» Not comment publicly on matters before him or her
» Avoid conflicts of interest
» Disqualify herself or himself when appropriate
An ALJ may:
» Pursue avocational activities
» Participate in civic and charitable activities
» Act as an arbitrator
» Accept appointments to governmental committees
» Practice law
» Lecture, write and speak on professional matters
» Engage in political activity to improve the law
However, an ALJ’s participation in such activities must not:
» Cast doubt on impartiality
» Demean the office
» Interfere with performance of judicial duties
» Create a conflict of interest
» Be contrary to state law or agency rules
» Command excessive fees or reimbursements
In addition, an ALJ must refrain from:
» Using her or his position for personal gain
» Using his or her position for the benefit of an organization with which the ALJ is affiliated
» Financial dealings that reflect adversely on impartiality
» Publicly displaying campaign material where judicial activities are performed
» Soliciting political funds while serving as a full-time ALJ
» Running for an elected position while serving as a full-time ALJ
Advice on the Code of Conduct?
The Ethics Commission’s Committee on Standards of Conduct for State Administrative Law Judges is authorized to issue written Advisory Opinions to any person whose conduct is governed by the ALJ Code of Conduct. Prior ALJ Advisory Opinions may be viewed by clicking here.
Written Advisory Opinions provide immunity in the Complaint process to the requester, or any similarly situated person, when the Opinions are relied upon in good faith. The Commission’s staff also provides informal advice regarding the Code of Conduct.
The Complaint Process
Anyone aware of a violation of the Code of Conduct may file a Complaint with the Ethics Commission. To access a Complaint form and instructions, click here.
Complaints filed against ALJs are initially referred to the Commission’s Committee on Standards of Conduct for Administrative Law Judges. This Committee determines whether the allegations of a Complaint, if taken as true, constitute a material violation of the ALJ Code. If this finding is made, it will issue a Notice of Investigation. The Commission’s staff then investigates the Complaint.
When the investigation has been completed, the Committee will either issue an order finding that there is probable cause to believe that the ALJ violated the ALJ Code of Conduct, or it will dismiss the Complaint. If a Probable Cause Order is issued, a Statement of Charges and Notice of Hearing is issued. An independent hearing examiner will preside at the hearing and issue a recommended decision.
The members of the Ethics Commission who have not served on the ALJ Committee will consider the recommendation and make a final determination. It will impose sanctions if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that there is a material violation of the Code of Conduct.
Penalties for violations of Code of Conduct
Administrative Law Judges found guilty of a material violation of the ALJ Code of Conduct may receive a written admonishment and be fined up to $1,000 per violation. The Commission may also order restitution, direct that the ALJ cease and desist from certain conduct, or recommend that the person be suspended or terminated from employment or removed from office.