State Office of Administrative Hearings
State Office of Administrative Hearings
 

Frequently Asked Questions

General

General Agency and Hearings Questions

What is the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH)?

SOAH was created in 1991 by the Texas Legislature as a neutral, independent forum where Texas agencies or other governmental entities and private citizens or entities can resolve legal disputes.  SOAH is to conduct fair and objective administrative hearings and provide timely and efficient decisions.  Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 2003.021 external web site

SOAH is divided into several teams according to subject matter and the state agencies that refer cases.  SOAH’s teams are as follows: Alternative Dispute Resolution; Administrative License Revocation and Field Enforcement; Economic; Licensing and Enforcement; Natural Resources; Tax; and Utilities.

What is an administrative law judge?

An administrative law judge (ALJ) is a neutral presiding officer who acts independently of the referring agencies, conducts the hearing, listens to the evidence and arguments of the parties, and in most cases, writes a recommendation for the person or body at the referring agency who will ultimately decide the case.  In some cases, the ALJ may issue a final decision.  In addition, the ALJ is authorized to conduct conferences before and after the hearings, issue written orders, and generally control the course of the hearing.  See 1 Tex. Admin. Code §155.153 external web site.  All SOAH ALJs are licensed Texas attorneys.

Preparation for, and the basic procedures of, a SOAH hearing are addressed in subsequent FAQs.

What is an administrative hearing?

An administrative hearing is conducted in basically the same way as a trial at the courthouse with the parties, including the referring agency, presenting evidence to the ALJ, who acts as both judge and jury.  The hearing is conducted independently of the agency that referred the case to SOAH, and the referring agency is prohibited from attempting to influence the ALJ’s decision in any way.

Do I need an attorney, or may I represent myself?

If you are a party in a SOAH hearing, you are not required to be represented by an attorney. You may represent yourself. You are not entitled to have an attorney appointed for you. You may, however, hire an attorney to represent you at your own expense. The staff of the referring agency is usually represented by a state-employed attorney. If you choose to represent yourself, you will need to know the law and rules applicable to your case because the ALJ will not give you legal advice or assist you in presenting your case. You will also be expected to comply with SOAH's procedural rules.

A free legal clinic for qualifying individuals is sponsored by Volunteer Legal Services. This link is provided only as a public service. SOAH does not endorse or recommend VLS or any of the participating entities, and SOAH does not require parties to be represented by an attorney.

What are the applicable laws governing the hearings?

For the laws applicable to your case, please go to "Not an Attorney?" and the "Research Tools" section of this website.

Can I resolve my dispute without an administrative hearing?

Yes, there are options for resolving the dispute without a hearing.  You may be able to settle your case through direct discussions with the referring agency.  If you decide that you would like to attempt to settle your case, you should consult with your attorney, or if you are representing yourself, the referring agency.  There are ways to dispose of your case informally by agreement among the parties.  Settlement negotiations will be between you and the referring agency's representatives.  The ALJ presiding in your case will not participate in any settlement negotiations.

Also, SOAH conducts mediations in appropriate circumstances.  Mediation is an alternative method of resolving a dispute in which the parties, with the assistance of a trained neutral called a mediator, explore the possibility of crafting a mutually satisfactory resolution of their dispute.  Whereas litigation is, by its very nature, adversarial, mediation is a collaborative process.  The parties, not a third party, control whether or not the dispute is resolved.  If the parties to a contested case try mediation, but the mediation is not successful, they still have the right to a contested case hearing presided over by an ALJ who was not the mediator.  For more information about mediation at SOAH - how to determine if mediation should be tried, how to request mediation, and how to prepare for a mediation, go to the Mediation at SOAH and Preparing for a SOAH Mediation sections.

What if I need an interpreter?

If you need a language interpreter or an interpreter for the hearing- or sight-impaired, you must file a written request with SOAH at least seven days prior to the proceeding at which the interpreter will be needed.  SOAH will arrange and pay for the interpreter.  See SOAH’s rule at 1 Tex. Admin. Code §155.407 external web site.  In your request, be sure to state what kind of interpreter is needed, and, if requesting a language interpreter, the language needed.

Will the hearing room be accessible to people with disabilities?

Yes.  All hearing rooms at SOAH are accessible to people with disabilities.

May I observe a SOAH hearing prior to attending my hearing?

Yes.  If you would like to attend a hearing, you may go to SOAH’s hearing rooms located on the fourth floor of the William P. Clements Building, 300 West 15th Street in Austin, and check the daily schedule of hearings (the docket), which is posted outside Suite 408.  The docket is also available on this website.  The docket will tell you who the parties are, approximately how long the hearing will last, the ALJ presiding over the hearing, the room where the hearing will be held, and whether or not the hearing is confidential.  Unless the hearing is confidential, you may attend any hearing of your choice.  Please observe the rules of proper decorum in the hearing room.