Pre-hearing conferences are a means for settlement of administrative disputes and an administrative law judge has the power to hold conferences for the settlement or simplification of the issues. Pre-hearing conferences are held before the actual hearing and are held with the consent of the parties. Prior to the conference, all parties should be given reasonable notice. In addition, reasonable notice must be given to all persons who have filed written petitions to intervene in the matter[i].
According to the statute, the hearing examiner may, at his discretion, or upon motion by any of the parties, direct counsel for all parties to meet with him/her for a conference.
Pre-hearing conference serves as a means to explore diverse settlement issues like conversion of the proceeding to another type; exploration of settlement possibilities; preparation of stipulations; clarification of issues, etc. Matters pertaining to discovery are also discussed in a prehearing conference. Thus, matters relating to identity of witnesses, number of witnesses, “objections to proffers of evidence, determination of the extent to which direct evidence, rebuttal evidence, or cross-examination will be presented in written form, the extent to which telephone, television, or other electronic means will be used as a substitute for proceedings in person, order of presentation of evidence and cross-examination, rulings regarding issuance of subpoenas, discovery orders and protective orders”, [ii] and such other matters as will facilitate the orderly and smooth conduct of the hearing are discussed in a prehearing conference.
A prehearing conference may be held by telephone, television, or other electronic means. Irrespective of the method by which the conference is conducted, each and every participant in the conference must be given an opportunity to participate in, hear, and witness the entire proceeding in appropriate cases[iii]. Pre-hearing conferences may be stenographically and the record shall show the matters disposed of by agreement in such conference.
The administrative law judge will issue a prehearing order at the end of a pre-hearing conference. The order shall state the details of the matters determined at the prehearing conference which will govern future proceedings. The concerned administrative agency is duty bound to carry out the prehearing order and if the agency fails to comply with the prehearing order, it may result in a denial of due process to the parties. In such a case, a rehearing is conducted to impart justice to the parties.
The presiding officer for the hearing is empowered to issue a prehearing order based on the pleadings of the parties even if a pre-hearing conference is not held. The presiding officer has discretion to issue such an order to regulate the conduct of the proceedings.
[i] Model State Administrative Procedure Act (1981)§ 4-204(2)
[ii] Id. § 4-205(b)
[iii] Id. § 4-205(a).