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Disqualification of Members or Officers of Agency

When there is bias, conflict of interest or an appearance of impropriety on part of an agency member serving the function of adjudicator, the appropriate remedy is disqualification or recusal.  A member or an officer can be disqualified in accordance with the statutory provisions applicable to the administrative proceeding at issue.  In Williams v. Marcus, 652 S.W.2d 893, 894 (Mo. Ct. App. 1983), the court held that if a disqualified member of an administrative body participates in the determination, the decision is void or at least voidable by the aggrieved party.  The parties seeking to disqualify agency members must support their motion by clear and convincing evidence. 

There is a “rule of necessity” which permits an adjudicative body to make a decision which no other entity is authorized to make, in spite of possible bias or self interest.  The rule of necessity operates on the principle that a biased judge is better than no judge at all.  However, the reviewing court can review the decision of a biased administrative body.  The court’s standard of review should be deferential, but it should also compensate for the possibility that bias may have tainted the agency’s exercise of its expertise.  Therefore, the decision of a biased administrative agency acting under the rule of necessity should be upheld if the evidence presented at the administrative hearing would have entitled an objective decision maker to reach the same conclusion.

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