“OAL” stands for the Office of Administrative Law. The New Jersey Office of Administrative Law oversees the proper running of New Jersey state agencies. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (formerly the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles) is one of those agencies.
One of the functions of the Office of Administrative Law is to help resolve contested cases that arise from New Jersey State agencies. These contested cases are handled by Administrative Law Judges. Lawyers usually refer to Administrative Law Judges as simply “ALJ.”
An elaborate set of rules exists by which contested cases in the Office of Administrative Law are handled. In many ways, these rules parallel rules applicable to regular courts. But in many ways, differences exist. These differences affect how contested matters proceed, as well as rules of evidence in actual hearings.
When an OAL hearing concludes, the ALJ issues an initial decision. The OAL notifies the parties of that decision. This initial decision is not binding on the administrative agency. Administrative agencies, such as the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, can accept, reject, or modify the decision of the ALJ.
Since the MVC is not bound by the ALJ's decision, why submit a contested case to the ALJ at all, you may wonder. Actually, very important reasons exist for that procedure. Remember that the prehearing conference is conducted by an MVC “driver improvement analyst.” Unlike the driver improvement analyst, the ALJ is not an MVC employee. The ALJ is not beholden to the MVC Chief Administrator for evaluations of job performance, and advancement. The ALJ is thus often in a better position to provide an impartial independent ruling, both in appearance and in reality. And when the ALJ decides contested issues in the driver's favor, the MVC in fact often adopts the ALJ's rulings.
Even when the MVC rejects favorable decisions by the ALJ, those decisions can still provide an important benefit to the driver. No formal record exists in the conference with the driver improvement analyst. With the ALJ, however, every word spoken, and every exhibit received, becomes part of a formal record. If the ALJ decision is unfavorable to the driver, or if the MVC rejects the ALJ's favorable ruling, the OAL process gives the driver his or her only opportunity to establish the needed record for appeal to the court.
Let's recapitulate: The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) sends you a notice of proposed suspension. You (or your lawyer) notifies the MVC that you want a hearing. Your notification contains one or more contested facts, or other reasons why the suspension should not take effect as proposed. You meet, perhaps with your lawyer, with an MVC analyst. The analyst proposes a resolution of the matter. You reject it. The matter is referred to the Office of Administrative Law. With each new stage in the proceedings, the importance of having a lawyer becomes greater and greater. If you have not had a lawyer to this point, you desperately need one now.
The administrative law judge conducts a hearing. You have the opportunity bring witnesses to the hearing, to testify on your behalf. You have the opportunity to testify on your own behalf. You also have the opportunity to cross examine whatever witnesses testify on behalf of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. The administrative law judge renders a decision. You are satisfied with the decision, and MVC accepts it. Or you are satisfied with the decision but MVC rejects it. OR you are dissatisfied with the decision. You then have the opportunity to tell the MVC why that agency should not adopt decision of the administrative law judge. Eventually, the New Jersey MVC imposes the finding of the administrative law judge, or even something more severe, or something less severe. These proceedings span a period of many months. In many cases, while all this is happening, your New Jersey drivers license remains valid; your right to drive in New Jersey is preserved.
The ruling of the MVC at that point, whatever it is, constitutes the final administrative action. All of the proceedings until this point have been administrative proceedings. It is only at that point that you first have a right to take your case to court. The court to which you take your case would be the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.
The Law Offices Allan Marain handle matters in the New Jersey OAL, as well as in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Mr. Marain has forty-five years. He has the knowledge and the skill needed to provide first rate representation in contested MVC matters. Call him.
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