This refers to petitions, applications, defense of allegations of professional misconduct and appeal of the initial administrative decision rendered, pursuant to the procedures unique to the entity within which the action is proceeding. In most, but not all North Carolina cases, this includes appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings, which is a stand-alone agency of the State that provides Administrative Law Judges or ALJ’s. These ALJ’s hear appeals of final administrative decisions. A decision rendered by an ALJ is, in most North Carolina cases, the Final Administrative Decision of the board, commission, agency or other entity within which the dispute arose.
If a party is still aggrieved upon issuance of the Final Administrative Decision rendered by the ALJ, they can Petition the Superior Court for judicial review of the decision. This appeal is before the Judge alone and, although there are exceptions, it is usually limited to a review of the proceedings that have already occurred, to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of record, upon which to base the findings and decision contained in the Order from which appeal is taken. After hearing, the Superior Court Judge will uphold the Final Administrative Decision, return the matter to where the Order being appealed was issued ( a remand) for the taking of new evidence, or possibly even a whole new hearing, called a hearing de-novo. If a party still feels aggrieved after the judicial review by a Superior Court Judge, the matter can be further appealed to the Appellate Courts of this State, those being the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court.
It is important to note that you do not have to be a lawyer to represent a party at the administrative level, that is up to and including the hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Once the matter is appealed to the courts, a party MUST be represented by an attorney unless it is an individual representing him or herself. Regardless of whether an attorney is required, it is far more advantageous for you to be represented by a qualified attorney than not, due to the training and experience. This training and experience shows itself most in the attorney’s ability to understand and properly interpret the administrative rules and procedures of the particular entity before which your case is being heard, in the focus upon using the rules and procedures available, to your best interests, and in being ever mindful of creating a favorable record for use on appeal should one become necessary. It has been my experience more often than not, that when I represent an individual or entity that decided to represent itself at the administrative level, the established record of the proceedings is often lacking in the very evidence needed at the appeal level. It is sometimes the case that the client has botched the administrative level procedures to the point that the value of attorney involvement in any further appeal is limited. In cases like this, it is important to review the entire case to determine the most cost efficient and time efficient manner of proceeding, to the end that your best interests be the polar star in all respects.