Failing to provide a fair hearing requires the voiding a Civil Service Commission’s decision sustaining the termination of an employee by the appointing authority
Pinheiro v. Civil Service Comm. for the Cnty. of Fresno, California Court of Appeal, Docket F070473
John Pinheiro was dismissed from his position as the County of Fresno’s labor relations manager. The County of Fresno Civil Service Commission sustained Pinheiro termination and he filed a “writ of mandate” seeking a court order vacating the Commission’s decision.
Pinheiro contended that his right to a fair trial* was violated because the Commission:
(1) relied on evidence obtained outside the Commission hearing;
(2) used law enforcement records as a factor in sustaining his termination;
(3) relied on acts of alleged misconduct more than three years old;
(4) relied on evidence that was not admitted and excluding evidence relevant to his defenses; and
(5) relied on evidence of contact with another individual prior to any directive prohibiting such contact.
The trial court sustained the Commission’s action. However, the California Court of Appeals vacated the lower court’s ruling, explaining that Pinheiro had not been given a fair trial because the Commission considered and relied on information taken outside the hearing in reaching its decision.
Citing La Prade v. Department of Water & Power, 27 Cal.2d 47, the court said “The decision … should be based on the record and not on off-the-record discussions from which the parties are excluded,” indicating that administrative tribunals exercising quasi-judicial powers which are required to make a determination after a hearing cannot act on their own information and nothing may be treated as evidence which has not been introduced as such, inasmuch “as a hearing requires that the party be apprised of the evidence against him in order that he [or she] may refute, test and explain it.”
As Pinheiro had no opportunity to refute or explain such information, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the matter to the Commission for a new hearing as “Pinheiro was denied a fair hearing” by the Commission.
* The court said that the “fair trial” requirement of California’s Code of Civil Procedure §1094.5 is not synonymous with constitutional due process and does not mandate “a formal hearing under the due process clause,” [see Pomona College v. Superior Court, 45 Cal.App.4th1716]. What is required, said the court is simply a “fair administrative hearing,” that affords the individual a reasonable opportunity to be heard.
The decision is posted on the Internet at: