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November 9, 2010
Designation of the hearing officer in an administrative disciplinary action
Stein v Rockland Co., 259 AD2d 552
William J. Stein was terminated from his position with the Rockland County Highway Department after he was found guilty of striking another employee. However, during the second day of hearing Stein had protested “the lack of a proper, written designation of the hearing officer” as required by Civil Service Law Section 75(2). Stein argued that omission meant that the hearing officer did not have jurisdiction to hear testimony in the matter.
According to case law, “in the absence of a written delegation authorizing a deputy or other person to conduct the hearing, the removing board or officer has no jurisdiction to discipline an employee” (Wiggins v Board of Educ. of City of New York, 60 NY2d 385).
The Highway Superintendent provided the hearing officer with a “new written designation,” and the hearing continued. However, the hearing officer “specifically stated in his recommendations that he credited the testimony of the two witnesses who testified on the first day of the hearing.
This, said the Appellate Division meant that the hearing officer’s report was “fatally defective.” The Appellate Division annulled the determination and remitted the matter to the county “for a new hearing and determination with respect to the charges.”
In addition, the Appellate Division said that the determination had to be annulled because the Highway Superintendent should have disqualified himself from making the final determination because of his personal involvement in the case.
The Superintendent was present when the incident leading to disciplinary action against Stein occurred and he made a statement as to what he heard and saw. Furthermore, he conducted the initial investigation, preferred the charges against the Stein, and appointed the hearing officer.
Such “personal involvement in the case,” said the Court, required the Superintendent to disqualify himself from reviewing the recommendation of the hearing officer and acting on any of the charges.
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